Talking with people about the collapse of the economy, you gain some unexpected insights and hear stories you hadn’t thought about.
This afternoon I dropped by a pricey optical boutique in hopes that they could adjust my glasses frames and get them right. Background: Three or four years ago, I bought a pair of stupefyingly expensive Silhouette frames, mostly because my former best friend had a pair (yah, I know…monkey see, monkey do!). Their design really is neat. The lenses are completely rimless, not even any wire or nylon line around them, and the temple and nose pieces are so light and airy you hardly notice you have a pair of glasses perched on your schnozz. They have no hinges: the temple piece is made of a sproingy substance that can be folded, sort of, but springs back to its original shape.
Because they’re expensive, not every optical dispenser carries them. And because they’re kinda exotic, opticians who don’t sell them sometimes are a little flummoxed about repairs and adjustments to the frames. When they get bent, which can happen if you sit on them (ahem!), the repair job is not something for the happy handyperson—you end up having to take them to an optician who knows how to deal with them.
The other day, for no good reason, one of the temple pieces snapped off its lens. So I schlepped them downtown, not a hideously long drive but off my beaten path and so a bit of a nuisance. The woman who’s now running the place announced that the warranty had expired (say what? thôt they had a lifetime warranty!) and it would cost $85 to repair them. Exasperated, I ponied up the money to have her ship them back to the factory to be fixed, eight-five bucks being significantly less than the price of a new pair of the cheapest, ugliest glasses in the shop.
When I went to pick them up, she had me stick them on my face, took one look at me, said “that looks fine,” and out the door I went. No adjustment. Soon as I got home and glanced at myself in the bathroom mirror, I realized one lens was higher than the other. I looked like some sort of wacked-out comedienne…not exactly the image one likes to project when standing in front of 25 hypercritical students.
Hence the visit to the high-fashion optical boutique: it’s a lot closer to my house, and they dispense this variety of overpriced glasses.
The proprietor adjusted the frame so it sits straight on my nose, remarking (in passing) that the lenses had been drilled incorrectly and the temple pieces are too short for me.
This fall, before I’m canned, I’m going to need to buy a new pair of glasses. I’d planned to buy the cheapest junk I could get, just as a back-up.
“Well,” said he, “Before you buy something you won’t want to wear in public, take a look at these: I have a whole showcase full of frames marked way down. Four of my suppliers have gone out of business, and I need to move this stock.”
Indeed, the prices were marked down from stratospheric to about mid-level expensive. And some models were very, very handsome, obviously top of the line, with high-quality construction. Much nicer than the pair of glasses I was dragging around town to get adjusted correctly.
He said that the last part of 2008 and first part of 2009 were the worst period he’d ever been through, in twenty years as an optician. Not only was there no traffic through the store, but suppliers were collapsing all around him, some of them leaving him high and dry. “The outfit that made these,” he said, indicating a drawerful of jewelry-like frames, “stiffed me for $4,000!”
Over the past three months or so, however, things have been getting better. He said that right now his business is just about back to normal. People are starting to buy again, and he feels better about the prospects for the future.
Opticians pushed to the wall by the recession. Who would’ve thunk it? With so many people half-blind, aren’t glasses a necessity? On the other hand: it’s not surprising. Even low-end glasses are pricey, and “insurance” programs to help you buy the things are right up there with dental insurance: they don’t cover much. The industry has aggravated the problem by lobbying successfully for regulation forbidding you from buying a pair of glasses unless you’ve had a $70 eye exam in the past year. Add tax, and voilà! A $300 pair of glasses morphs into a $400 gouge. At Arizona’s 8.3 percent sales tax, even a cheaper $150 pair ends up costing you $240—and has to be replaced in a couple of years. Who has that kind of money laying around the house?
I wonder how many Americans are putting off glasses, dental care, and nonemergency medical care, feeling they can’t afford it? Are you delaying vision, dental, or health care because of the recession?