Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Repurcussions of the fall

Talking with people about the collapse of the economy, you gain some unexpected insights and hear stories you hadn’t thought about.

DCP_2671This 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?

Author: funny

This post may be a paid guest contribution.


  1. We were in Paris a few years ago and daughter’s glass frames had a problem. It was pouring rain. We looked like a bunch of drowned rats. We went into a small shop to have the glasses fixed, trembling at the possible price. The proprietor said it was FREE. We checked around and apparently free fixes are part of the opticians’ code of conduct. Perhaps your fix was outside that range…at least I hope so.

    My dentist said she had to raise her prices to compensate for the loss of business. THANKS VERY MUCH. GLAD TO BE OF SERVICE.

  2. @ FrugalScholar: All opticians in these parts will do minor repairs–straightening, replacing a lost screw, replacing a nosepad–for free. If you broke a part, as in the nose bridge, most of the time they can’t fix it at all, but if they can, I think they’ll charge you. In this case, the temple piece snapped in two near the place where it’s screwed to the lens. I’m pretty sure all she could do was return it to the factory and ask them to replace the part.

    It would help a lot if we could dispense with the requirement that we trot in and get a full eye exam every year. At some points in your life, your vision isn’t changing significantly and you don’t need a new exam every time you want to buy a spare pair of lenses. I realize optometrists and opthamologists have to eat, too…but forcing us myopes and presbyopes to buy their groceries ain’t a fair process.

  3. Have you ever read this fellow’s blog? He’s quite the internet eyeglass sales cheerleader.

    • @ M’hijito: Don’t think I’ve seen this specific site, but there are a couple of others like it. Problem is, it’s very hard to get the figure in your Rx that measures the distance between your pupils, which is needed to make the lenses correctly. Opticians try to keep this figure secret. You have to wheedle it out of them by engaging them in small talk, asking them idly what they’re doing, and then if they blurt the number out, you have to memorize it on the fly.

  4. While it’s true that it can be difficult to get the distance between your pupils, sometimes it’s worth it. You can get pretty accurate with the help of a friend w/ steady hands too.

    You can’t try them on, but they’re cheap enough I just ordered two sets of frames (at way less than one normally) and picked my favorite. Worth a look if nothing else.

  5. Wow, that’s annoying. I’ll admit paying absurd amounts of money for glasses that I ended up not needing years ago, but in my last appointment, they gave me a printout of the exam results with RX recommendations and all. And this bounty of information from an HMO optician! Feeling lucky for a second.

  6. I wasn’t sure about the online glasses purchasing. But I just did it and used the glassy eyes website for help. I really like my new glasses and they cost only $12 inc. shipping and handling. I thought I would try them b/c for $12 if they were awful I could just not wear them, but they seem to be just as good as anything I’ve ever gotten at an optical store. I think they keep your PPD on file (pupillary distance) so you should be able to ask for that along with your prescription.