Who Knew: We See You, Dr. Crolla


New Canaan Eye Associates is at 22 East Avenue. Call 203-966-9480 to make a truly enjoyable eye appointment.

‘Who Knew?’ is sponsored by Walter Stewart’s Market.

It becomes evident, after enough time, that living in New Canaan is a lot like living in Richard Scarry’s Busytown. While the jobs people have in 2024 may be more deskbound and spreadsheet-y than the anthropomorphized animal metermaids Scarry’s pen brought to life, there’s still a delightfully wholesome level of personal connection in this small-ish town. 

You might have a beer with the librarian, bump into the grocer at a fundraiser, and have in-jokes with your mail carrier. That our cars aren’t apple-shaped (though I wish they were) doesn’t make our existence any less storybook; New Canaan is most assuredly a town with character. And what gives a town character? Its characters. Naturally.

Ironically, this month’s Who Knew explores something most of us already know: Dr. Rick Crolla is more than our town’s optometrist. He’s a local treasure. 

New Canaan’s go-to eye guy, Dr. Rick Crolla. Photo: Andrew Ault.


One recent evening, at a restaurant with friends, while waiting for my turn with the table’s votive candle to be able to read the menu (as one does in the glamorous throes of middle age,) I announced, “I have an appointment with Dr. Crolla tomorrow because my eyesight has gotten so terrible.” Without hesitation, the entire table piped up: “I love that guy!” 

Healthcare seems to become more margin–driven and impersonal by the minute. To wit: I recently visited a blood lab that replaced its live human receptionist with a sign-in iPad on a robot-shaped stand. Not so at New Canaan Eye Associates: Dr. Crolla and his team are holdouts for real human connection. Every appointment is part Snellen eye chart, part catch-up with an old friend about restaurants, events, town happenings, and, if you’re my husband, a casual ranking of the world’s greatest guitar solos [Editor’s note: that’d be Dire Straits “Sultans of Swing” live from Alchemy ’83.] [Writer’s note: Purple Rain, full stop.] Every interaction with his office staff leaves you smiling. You never feel hurried along the conveyor belt in the optical shop, even if you’re (ahem, me) the kind of person who needs to try on three dozen new frames to feel adequately convinced about the first pair you picked up.

Optician Bob Greene has been an integral part of the team since 2002. Photo: Andrew Ault.

Growing up in West Norwalk, Dr. Crolla’s first introduction to New Canaan was at a school dance. “I was in 10th grade at Brien McMahon. My friend Kevin said, ‘You want to go up to New Canaan?’ I said, ‘Well, where is it?’ Now, from West Norwalk, I have no idea where New Canaan was, even though it was practically a block away. It was like a secret.” That night, as we all do, he became enchanted by the town’s gracious houses and friendly people. And that night, the future Dr. Crolla also met his future wife, Barbara (née Sawicky).

College followed, as did a quick foray into pharmacy science. “I wanted to be a biology and chemistry teacher,” Crolla said. “But at the time, in Boston in the early 1970s, there were no teaching jobs to be had.” So he completed the graduate work necessary and worked as a pharmacist in Boston for a while. Barb’s dad, Ed “Doc” Sawicky, who founded New Canaan Eye Associates in 1946, spoke with his son-in-law about returning to New Canaan and joining his practice. “I think he was doing everything he could to get his daughter back closer to home,” says Crolla. And it worked. Crolla wrapped up his

The vintage sign from “Doc” Sawicky’s circa 1946 window is still on display today

optometry doctorate in time to join his late father-in-law at the office in 1984. 

In the practice’s current incarnation on East Avenue, Crolla is quick to do what’s best for the patient. “If someone calls me with an eye injury,” he says, a common occurrence among people who play racquet sports, “I get them as quickly as I can to a retina specialist, so I don’t waste half their day by seeing them first and referring them out. Colleagues would tell me I’m giving money away, but this is what [Dr. Sawicky] instilled in me. If you do what you’re comfortable with, people will be more comfortable with you.” This sensible approach has paid off. He now counts third and fourth generations among his nearly 5,000 active patients, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people he saw when he was first practicing. 

Dr. Crolla’s father-in-law also brought him into community service with Kiwanis and the Lions Club, two organizations where he eventually served as president. Here, too, is an

There’s nothing cuter than little kid eyeglasses

important observation: the example of community service laid out by generations of New Canaanites who came before us is downright incredible. Where would we be as a community if, every day, people didn’t take it upon themselves to improve every aspect of life in town for others? Says Crolla, “Volunteerism became a huge part of my life. You can’t help but love to do stuff like that in this town because you get so much back from it.” 

Tangible returns on his volunteer spirit include many memories of St. Patrick’s Day dinners, pancake breakfasts, and the Steve Benko Pool, which Crolla and others helped with fundraising and behind-the-scenes work while the late Mr. Benko saw the project through to completion. Crolla helped to raise awareness for the nascent pool project with a now-defunct annual soapbox derby race. Perhaps those were simpler times, before screens occupied our every waking minute as a species, but there’s a sweet sense of small-town Americana in that scene: town dads helping their kids tune and race DIY cars with hot dogs on the grill on a sunny day at Waveny. Isn’t that precisely the Rockwellian dream we all had when we moved here? 

For whatever reason we first come to New Canaan, Dr. Crolla has thoughts about why we stay. One is that engaged citizens make for a well-run community. He noted that friends with children in other Fairfield County public elementary schools, on parents’ night, counted two parents who showed up to the classroom. In New Canaan, in a classroom of 18 children, there were 36. This level of engagement can be intense, of course, and it’s largely a factor of economic stability that allows parents to be THAT present. But it also speaks volumes of the importance of education to our community; all in all, a good upvote.

The second meta-level recommendation for New Canaan Dr. Crolla cites is the level of care that accompanies you through life. The resources available to you here are unparalleled, from early childhood through adulthood and aging. He brought his mother to town, where she lived from age 80 until she died at 95, and notes that Staying Put, Getabout, our town’s EMT team, and visiting nurses were crucial to helping her thrive as she aged in place. High-quality hospice care allows for the inevitable to happen with grace and dignity. And Lakeview, where Crolla’s own parents and in-laws share adjacent plots, is a pretty sweet locale for the afterlife. 

When asked about an ideal date, Dr. Crolla, who lives in town, imagined a walking loop: “Library, Adirondack Store, Elm Street Books, Chef Luis, Franco’s, home.” A flawless, literate stroll. I have no notes. 

A few years ago, I had a terribly itchy eye the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. It wasn’t life-threatening, but nobody wants to spend their long weekend clawing uselessly at an uncooperative ocular situation. I called, sheepishly, around 11:30 AM, hoping to get in early on Tuesday morning. Dr. Crolla and his staff kept the office open an extra half hour on Friday to fit me in. 

An iPad would never. 

Congratulations to Dr. Crolla and his fantastic team on 40 years of helping us see just how lucky we are to live in this busy little town. 

5 thoughts on “Who Knew: We See You, Dr. Crolla

  1. Great article …
    Rick,Bob and their entire staff are terrific…
    Wouldn’t think of going anywhere else.
    Even though Rick is a Red Sox fan !!

  2. Love Rick, even though we don’t live in NC any more we. Went to him all of our adult life before retirement. He and Bob are a town treasure. Thanks for recognizing them.
    Abby Newton

  3. Think we were one of Ricks first patients in 1984 and of course have been seeing him ever since. Actually feel like family as so many others do as well. Oh yes, and he loves to talk real estate!

  4. What a wonderful article, Laura. Thank you, Dr Crolla, for your dedicated service to New Canaan. I smiled while reading this!

  5. This story is so well done! I love the richard Scarry reminder and you’ve also reminded me of my experience with Dr Crolla. I’ve only met him once, but he may have saved my life. My vision started going wonky again about 2 decades after I got lasix, which was also the last time I’d had an eye exam. I made an appointment with dr crolla thinking I needed glasses again. I was surprised and a little embarrassed to find that my vision seemed fine; I could read the eye charts perfectly. Then I glanced over at a framed poster of Yankees stadium (I remember it as Yankees, god forgive me if it was the Red Sox and he reads this) and noted to dr crolla that, while I could read it fine, the lines of text were doubling. His expression immediately darkened and he got out the doohickey they use to look at your retina. What he saw there troubled him enough that he didn’t just refer me to a retina specialist, he got one on the phone right then and told him he needed to see me that same day. Within a few days I was in Boston to see one of the country’s few retinal oncologists (that’s a thing!). Although I’ve told many people this story about him, it occurs to me now that I haven’t seen Dr Crolla since or thanked him properly. Now that my eyes are failing in the normal can’t-read-a-menu way, it’s probably time to go see him again.

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