Last touched 2001 December 4
Originally published in M-111, the Newsletter of the Richland (Ohio) Astronomical Society
Reflections in the Eyepiece
by Robert Bunge
Where are all the telescope stores?
The first time, I thought it was just a dream. I walked in the door of the store and there was a complete room full of telescopes. Glass display cabinets were full of eyepieces... Televue, Celestron, Vernonscope. Other cabinets were packed with binoculars. Next, a smiling face appeared, ready to - not - sell me a telescope.
What? NOT sell a telescope? Yep. After saying that I was just looking (or was it drolling?), I was left alone to wander about. First, I was drawn to the huge 7-inch f/9 Astrophysics that towered above all the other telescopes. Then there was the C-11 to examine and then the 8-inch f/6 Meade newtonian. Then also were the Questars (yep, there's an `s' there) to look at (you don't DARE touch one of these without having enough money in your checkbook to cover the certain to happen crash to the floor).
With the very un-astronomical name of Company-7, or C-7 for short, this little Maryland based shop, about five miles north of the District of Columbia, is many an amateur astronomer's dream and many an astronomy widow's nightmare. But, is it a telescope store or a club?
Marty Cohen, one of the owners and primary operator of the Astro-optics division of C-7 (The other branches of C-7 do a lot of work for "Government Agencys whom wish to remain anonymous," said Marty) is a short, mustached man who appears to be in his mid to late 30s. Marty says he runs C-7 for the fun of it and that the day it isn't fun, he'll quit. "We've got a month to month lease, and we can quit if we decide it isn't fun anymore," says Marty.
Even if there isn't a promise that C-7 will be there 15 years from now, the store certainly attracts a very interesting clientell. "Clearly, most of our customers are in above-average income brackets," he said. It's easy to see why. Most (but not all) of the telescopes on the floor of C-7 are high end instruments. With a special bent toward Astrophysics refractors (C-7 is the only Astrophysics dealer) the telescopes on the floor of C-7 stress image quality and perfection long before price.
Certainly, if not primarily, the biggest drawing card for C-7 is the service. Marty is quick to explain that each telescope is carefully checked out and tested before being passed on to a customer. Scopes with electronics in their clock drive units are "burnt in" for at least 24 hours to weed out poor quality control at the factory. Every telescope is star tested. Many are sent back (Marty recently sent several Edmund Astrocans back to the factory when they wouldn't pass his star test).
Perfection extends beyond optics too. When two of the tripod legs to a Televue refractor arrived scratched, Marty called up the factory and ordered another set. When two legs of THIS set also arrived scratched, he again, was quick to call up the factory and explain that a defect in their method of packing was causing the scratch.
Because the telescope was promise to a customer, Marty "borrowed" an unblemished tripod leg from a floor model to make a complete set, so the customer wouldn't recieve a blem. "I hate to do this, because now the floor sample is blemmed... which means it may not impress a future customer," he said.
If walking into a store full of high-end telescopes isn't enough, walking into C-7 on a Saturday afternoon is almost like going to a telescope meet. Now the question with reference to the club comes to mind. People come to C-7 on Saturday afternoons, just to hang out. Pizza is ordered (paid for by the shop). They look over the latest models, compare prices in the magazines, rave about the observing the other night, complain about the weather and just plain have a good time. Recently, while deciding if C-7 should carry Nikon binoculars, Marty passed several units around, asking for opinions. This produced the comment that the brace connecting the halfs of the Nikon 10x50s sometimes got in the way if the person's nose was too big. Nonetheless, Marty must have liked what they said... the Nikon dealership papers were filled out.
One only has to watch the operations of C-7 for a short period before they wonder how the shop stays in business.
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