Lapeer County Vision Centers purchases new downtown location | The County Press – Thecountypress


Craig Watson (left) and Jeff Johnston, owners of Lapeer County Vision Centers, stand in the doorway of the former JC Penney store at 333 Nepessing St. they recently purchased — future site of the business following a June 5 fire that destroyed their building.
LAPEER — On June 5, a massive mid-block fire on the south side of Nepessing Street between Court and Pine streets in downtown Lapeer destroyed four buildings. Six months later, demolition and clean-up of the fire scene is nearly complete.
The six-alarm fire that brought fire departments from four counties to the blaze destroyed four buildings, displaced more than a dozen apartment residents and a half-dozen businesses — including Lapeer County Vision Centers.
Craig Watson and Jeff Johnston, owners of the business since they bought the practice in 2003, contemplated rebuilding on the site. They originally considered building a one-story building that would occupy nearly the entire space of the buildings that were demolished — but time is of the essence to restore normal operations for the business. “We can’t be away from our main office that long,” said Watson.
They recently closed on a purchase of the old JC Penney location at 333. W. Nepessing St. (next door to Woodchips Barbecue restaurant). As a result, Lapeer County Vision Centers will still be downtown — just two blocks west of their former location.
Craig Watson (left) and Jeff Johnston shake hands inside the old JC Penney location contractors will renovate to become their new downtown Lapeer location.
Since the fire, laboratory work was moved to the basement of the Lapeer County Vision Centers office on Cedar Street in Imlay City, while other personnel and services were transferred to the company’s OptiCare Vision Center location at the Lapeer Market Place (S. Main and DeMille Road). Additional OptiCare locations are in Bad Axe, Caro, and Vassar.
Watson said it was estimated a new building could take up to two years to complete between the time it would take to wrap up loose ends from the fire, and the time it would take to design, permit and build the structure. “We can’t wait that long,” he said. “If we can be open within a year of the fire would be incredible. That’s our goal.”
An architect has been hired to design the interior renovation of the estimated 5,800-square-foot space. The former building had about 9,500 to 10,000 square feet of space, including a basement, though Watson said a lot of the space was not usable. Watson and Johnston hope to be moved in and operational in their new location by May 2022.
“We’re very excited. We think this is going to be a phenomenal building. This will give us access from both entrances, off Nepessing Street and from the parking lot on the south side,” said Watson. “It’s going to be great.”
In addition to planned work for a new downtown Lapeer store, the OptiCare stores in Bad Axe and Caro are currently being remodeled. Combined, Watson and Johnston have 32 employees at their four locations.
Watson said they’re exploring options on whether they want to redevelop the fire site location themselves, or sell to a developer. “Right now, our priority is to get the new place renovated and get in as soon as possible,” said Watson. He earlier told The County Press he and Johnston would be elated to be back in business in downtown Lapeer in time that he and his daughter, a senior at Lapeer High School, could walk past the business during the end-of-the-year Swing Out celebration along Nepessing Street.
Watson is vice president on the Lapeer Community Schools Board of Education.

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