In her last-minute search for solar eclipse glasses, Pat Hopkins of Kansas City called a half-dozen stores, including Walmart, Hy-Vee and Toys ‘R’ Us.
“I called everywhere, everyplace I could think of, and they’re out of them,” said Hopkins, who on Tuesday morning ultimately rushed into the shop at Science City at Union Station to buy six pairs.
She felt lucky.
Earlier Tuesday morning, two customers nearly came to blows over glasses, said Shayne Reber, director of retail operations for Event Network at Union Station. Another customer kept a line of hopeful and increasingly irritated eclipse watchers-to-be waiting as she attempted to buy 30 pairs of glasses, one at a time, each with a separate credit card or bit of cash.
When, after about 20 minutes, Reber stepped in to inform the woman that she’d either have to buy the rest of her glasses together or get back in line for each transaction, she snapped at him with profanities and marched off yelling.
“It’s been quite a morning,” Reber said.
Indeed, just days before Monday’s solar eclipse briefly blots out the face of the sun, the quest for solar eclipse glasses is getting intense.
Not all of it is the result of procrastination and last-minute shopping.
Amazon.com last week sent out cautionary notices to customers who’d bought glasses from some manufacturers whose product the online retail giant was not sure met safe-viewing standards. The glasses might by safe, but the retailer didn’t know if they complied with the recommended ISO 12312-2 international safety standard. So Amazon recommended that customers not use them and offered a refund.
One of the results was a 50-foot line Monday afternoon at Science City. The shop had received 10,000 pairs of glasses at 1:30 p.m. By the time it closed at 5 p.m. Monday, it had sold 8,842 pairs for $2.99. The expectation was that the shop would be sold out by the end of the day Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Customers there said they’d been scrambling around town, unsuccessfully visiting store after store.
“I feel lucky,” Michelle Johann of Blue Springs said as she nabbed a few pairs. Her son is scheduled to fly in for the eclipse.
Ira Boydston said his wife called him Monday to take off from work in the middle of the day to try to get two pairs.
“I’ll take seven,” he said, filing up to the Science City cash register.
Reber said he planned to call on other museum retail shops to see if they could rush more glasses his way. But there was no guarantee and he had no more shipments scheduled.
Others, once stocked with glasses, said the same:
The Astronomical Society of Kansas City thought it had ordered enough pairs of certified glasses. (The American Astronomical Society has a list of safe vendors.) “We’re out,” said Jackie Beucher, the Kansas City group’s vice president.
The Walmart Supercenter in Lee’s Summit and the Party City store at Barrywoods Crossing: both out, and expecting no more shipments.
The Hy-Vee supermarket at 76th Street and State Line Road sold out three times and is trying to get 300 pairs shipped for Friday.
“I’m not holding my breath,” said Bart Foster, the store’s manager of the general merchandise.
Also out? The Sabates Eye Centers, which had put aside 8,000 pairs and advertised that it was giving away glasses.
It pulled its ads early and has only enough left to fulfill earlier reservations. On Monday, the centers received more than 400 calls from people solely asking for glasses. Stephanie Kelly, marketing director for Sabates, tracked its online reservations as they skyrocketed over the weekend.
“We had double digits all week up until the 10th, Thursday, when we had 40 people request glasses,” she said Monday. “Then, suddenly, on Saturday, we had 221. Then, Sunday, we had 330. Then today, we had to stop them by noon. …We really don’t have any left.”
Amazon is still taking orders, but its site now says that regular shipping schedules won’t get the glasses to customers before the eclipse.
One place that was expecting a shipment of 750 pairs on Wednesday is Brookside Toy & Science, 330 W. 63rd St.
Owner Jim Ward said Monday that the phone had been ringing “every five minutes.” He began the day with 1,200 pairs of glasses, and by 4 p.m. had about 200 pairs left.
Ward, who has been working at the family-owned shop for more than 50 years, is hardly new to eclipses. He said he has been getting shipments of solar glasses every five days as the Aug. 21 total eclipse has approached and demand has remained high.
“Actually, I’m trying to get some more from another manufacturer,” he said, meaning aside from his scheduled Wednesday shipment. “I’m not sure I can get them in time.”
Ward also offered some counsel to people worried about the glasses they have bought. He wonders if the Amazon alert is generating some unnecessary panic.
“I’m not really sure how to address this,” Ward said. “I have sold filters and eclipse glasses for probably 40 years. And all of this concern about this being certified and everything is absolute news to me. I think it’s unfortunate that some of the media have gotten some of the people terrified over whether or not to think their glasses are safe.
“I, personally, have never seen any glasses that weren’t made as they should be.”
Ward conceded that not all of the glasses he has received have had the current certification number. But he said he has routinely tested samples of the glasses, holding them up to the sun or LED lights, as well as passing laser light through them. The glasses should let no regular light through. But when one the sun is viewed through the glasses, it should appear as a faint orange circle.
Anyone who is truly concerned about their glasses, he said, certainly shouldn’t use them.
“All of the ones I have seen, in my opinion, are safe,” Ward said, “and I would say 75 percent of them didn’t have the numbers on them. … I think a lot of people have gotten scared who probably have safe glasses.”