If you’re an optical person, it’s probably not easy (maybe even impossible) to remember professional life before Vision Expo.

Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, Vision Expo has been a transformative event for the industry in many ways. But Vision Expo had a predecessor. It was called OptiFair, and it took place in New York City in the spring, Chicago in the summer and Anaheim, CA, in the fall. The New York OptiFair, located in the various ballrooms of the New York Hilton, seemed like a patchwork event-with meetings and continuing education here, some exhibitors there and still more exhibitors over there. What’s more, the OptiFairs were owned privately by a communications company called Advisory Enterprises. Hence not a dime of the OptiFair proceeds reverted back to the industry itself.

OptiFair was more akin to a Middle Eastern bazaar than an optical convention. The exhibit space was tight and clogged by attendees, many pushing baby strollers and carrying large shopping bags. And exhibitors were given much latitude when it came to booth presentations. (Anyone remember Mr. Jiggs, the smoking chimpanzee?)

All that changed in 1986, when the industry’s leadership decided that it was time that optical took matters into its own figurative hands. A small group of executives got together and decided that a privately owned trade show was not in the industry’s best interests and that a thriving market like ours needed a top-of-the-line meeting that offered stellar education, an expansive exhibit hall and many other elements to reflect the excitement that was equal to optical’s accelerating growth.

Hence, Vision Expo was born. The founders of Expo recognized a couple of important things: they needed professional assistance to manage the show and so they enlisted Reed Exhibition Services, and the profits from the show needed to be funneled back into the industry to further fuel its expansion.

That gave rise to the Vision Council of America, which ultimately merged with a competing organization and became, simply, The Vision Council.

But far more important than this brief history lesson is what Vision Expo has provided. Very early on it became a transformative event, changing the expansive and airy Javits Center into a celebration of all things optical.

Vision Expo has been the site of more major product introductions, more spectacle (pardon the pun) and more groundbreaking presentations than any other U.S. industry venue. It invigorated the people who attended, exhibited and presented. It gave the trade press a new enthusiasm. For an industry that sometimes manifests self-esteem issues, it stirred feelings of pride and accomplishment.

So here’s to Vision Expo as it enters its Millennial years. Long may it reign.

email me at fg@visioncareproducts.com


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