WATERTOWN — Jody A. Shuler, owner of EyeCrave Optics on Public Square, who was known by business professionals to be humbly intelligent, passionate and a visionary for the future of downtown, died unexpectedly over the weekend. He was 49.
A note is currently posted on the door to the EyeCrave business saying “Eye Crave Optics is closing.” in large font. Underneath the note says “Unfortunately, the owner/operator died unexpectedly Sunday morning. We are sorry to be unable to assist you anymore for your eye care needs. Over the course of this next week, we will be contacting any who had been in the process of getting new eye-wear. We appreciate your patience as we settle these matters.”
Mr. Shuler grew up in Theresa with four siblings. He was good in school, loved gardening through the years and, of course, glasses, a field he got into right after high school, said his mother, Katherine Shuler.
“He was a good kid all around,” she said on Wednesday. “He never got into an ounce of trouble — never swore, never said anything to hurt anybody.”
After Mr. Shuler died, a GoFundMe page was set up to support his wife, Heather. The goal was to raise $5,000, although $6,365 was generated in one day before the organizer disabled new donations.
“I am very happy they supported her and gave her what she needed and more,” Katherine Shuler said.
Ms. Shuler lives in Arizona and said she wouldn’t be able to travel back to Watertown for reasons relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said family members would be getting together virtually on Zoom.
Ms. Shuler said she still doesn’t know exactly what happened Sunday morning.
“I honestly didn’t ask Heather,” she said. “I didn’t want to talk about it.”
On Wednesday evening, Jody’s wife Heather posted to his Facebook page to share the news of his passing with his friends. In the post, she said he died of natural causes on June 7.
“He was larger than life, both in stature and as a figure in the community. He will be missed. He was a great support of local business and made a huge contribution both professionally and personally to so many,” she wrote.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, June 13 via Zoom. All those who visit to attend the virtual remembrance ceremony are encouraged to private message Heather Shuler.
Ms. Shuler said her son got his drive and passion for his work and his city from his dad, who passed away about 10 years ago this month.
“I am very happy that he set a good example like he should have done,” Ms. Shuler said after hearing the praise he has received lately from local business professionals. “Jody was trying to get a business going and it was hard, but he enjoyed doing glasses so much.”
Joseph A. Wessner heard about Mr. Shuler’s death later on Sunday. He was surprised as he was so young. “It’s really kind of weird when somebody you know and like, who is about the same age as you are, passes like that,” he said. “It was very humbling.”
Mr. Wessner, president of the Downtown Business Association, was trying to get Mr. Shuler to become a member.
“I was trying because he was very passionate about what he did,” Mr. Wessner said. “He loved his job, and he loved helping people see.”
Mr. Shuler had opened his optics business in October 2015 and was known as someone who wouldn’t settle for anything less than superior eye wear. Mr. Wessner knew him through a separate group, North Country Business Professionals.
“He was one of those genuinely nice people,” Mr. Wessner said. “He was incredibly intelligent, but didn’t use it to beat you over the head. He met you on your level and talked to you on that level. It was very kind.”
Not only was Mr. Shuler devoted to his customers, he spoke incessantly about business development downtown. He wanted to add more interesting restaurants and boutiques, and he was invested in expanding the town’s art scene. He had a mural of downtown hanging in his shop, Mr. Wessner said.
Jamie L. McGuire, cofounder of the business professional group, which is the largest networking group in the tri-county area, said Mr. Shuler was at nearly every meeting they held for the last few years. She said he had great ideas and energy and was incredibly passionate about downtown. He presented his eye wear business at a meeting, telling the group everything about optical care and glasses.
“When he spoke, people listened,” Ms. McGuire said. “People wanted to hear what he had to say.”
And he was incredibly kind on top of that, she said.
“He’s going to be greatly missed in our meetings,” she said. “He was very tall with a personality to match for sure.”
Cody J. Horbacz, who in December 2019 finished a four-year term as a city councilman, said he shared a similar vision for downtown as Mr. Shuler. They had known each other through Watertown First, an independent business alliance of which Mr. Horbacz is executive director. He said they shared a vision of a more walkable downtown, more boutiques and more collaboration between existing businesses.
“He just cared a lot,” Mr. Horbacz said. “It’s just very sad.”
While he was a council member, Mr. Horbacz said Mr. Shuler would message him all the time about different issues on Public Square, even if it was to just let him know a light was out or a Christmas tree wasn’t up right.
“He just really believed that downtown was coming back and he wanted to be part of it,” he said. “He wanted to change the way people viewed Public Square.”
And that started with his storefront, Mr. Horbacz said. It was forward-thinking, modern and edgy. He believed that if downtown thrived, that success would spread throughout the city and the area.
“There were a lot of businesses that had been there for a long time. They stuck it out through the rough times and they’re still there today, but when nobody wanted to move down there, he was one of the first ones to do it, and a lot of people followed suit,” he said. “I honestly think he inspired a lot of people to open their business downtown. Whether they consciously know it or not.”