Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sunny Skies Sales of Sunglasses Are Booming as Consumers Seek Style, Protection

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sunny Skies Sales of Sunglasses Are Booming as Consumers Seek Style, Protection

Article excerpt

Some people are trying to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Others just want to protect their eyes.

Whether they're fashion-conscious, health-conscious or both, consumers are spending more money on sunglasses every year.

"People are beginning to view sunglasses as something other than a medical need. Now there's a lot of specialization and fashion going on. It's become more of a lifestyle thing," said David Buchsbaum, a retail analyst for Southeast Research Partners Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla.

About 263 million pairs of sunglasses were sold last year in the United States, pulling in $2.5 billion, according to the Sunglass Association of America, an industry trade group. Those sales - up 9 percent in dollar terms compared with 1993 - were the highest since the group began tracking data 15 years ago, said Richard Enholm, its statistical chairman.

Based on sales through April, Enholm said sales for this year are projected to rise an additional 8 percent, which would equal $2.7 billion. Growth has been particularly strong the past three or four years as more people become aware of the dangers of the sun's ultraviolet rays, Enholm said.

Overexposure to ultraviolet light can dry the eye's cornea, or transparent coating, and perhaps even lead to cataracts. "If you spend a whole day at the beach with no sunglasses and the next day your eyes feel like you have sand in them - that's ultraviolet damage," said Carol Norbeck, an optician in Seattle.

Style is also a major concern to customers at Studio Optix, an eyeglass retailer in Manhattan, said owner Mitchell Cassel.

"People see Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing (sunglasses) in a certain movie and say, `I'd like to have that certain type of frame,' " said Cassel, whose store carries sunglasses ranging in price from $45 to $400.

Enholm said Americans last year spent an average of $9.50 for each pair of sunglasses - not a healthy price, according to optician John Alessandro.

"A sunglass that is purchased in the streets for 5 or 10 bucks can't possibly give you (good) protection," said Alessandro, who sells sunglasses ranging from $25 to $200 at his Manhattan office.

"You don't have to spend $200 on a pair of sunglasses," he said. "You can spend - if it's not a prescription - $50, $75, $100 for a good pair of sunglasses."

To appeal to the growing market, manufacturers are pumping out a wide array of frames.

Smaller round and oval-shaped frames are particularly in vogue now, although they lack the protection of larger sunglasses. …

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