As Monday's historic solar eclipse nears, Colorado Springs-area residents are looking hard to find the special protective glasses that allow people to safely view the event.
"It's a common theme: Everyone is selling out," said Keith Barger, an education specialist for the Space Foundation Discovery Center in Colorado Springs.
Of the 10 retail chains that stocked the glasses in Colorado Springs, at least eight were out of stock Tuesday morning, including Kirklands, Hobby Town, Best Buy, Lowe's Home Improvement and Toys R Us. Walmart stores across the Pikes Peak region, including in Fountain and Woodland Park, were also sold out, according to sales associates. It was "slim pickings," too, at all 11 King Soopers in the city and surrounding areas, a spokesman for the grocery store chain said.
At 11:47 a.m. Monday, the moon is expected to hide about 90 percent of the sun above Colorado Springs, which is not in the "path of totality." Onlookers who have yet to procure a pair of specs have two options, experts said: Keep searching for proper glasses, or view the eclipse indirectly using an alternative method. Viewing the eclipse sans shades, or even through standard sunglasses, could cause permanent eye damage.
The damage can occur within seconds or a few minutes, said Paula Pecen, a retina specialist at UCHealth's Eye Center in Boulder. If unprotected during the eclipse, a lens in a viewer's eye may focus the sun's intense light on a thin cell layer at the back of the eye known as the retina, effectively burning the tissue and causing solar retinopathy.
"Sometimes that damage can heal itself, but sometimes people are left with a permanent blind spot in their vision," Pecen said.
The Gazette found one Colorado Springs retailer with the glasses for sale. As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, the Grease Monkey on South Eighth Street had about 350 pairs remaining to give away as part of a promotion with Denver's 9 News. But the stock was quickly dwindling as word spread, said the vehicle service shop's manager, Tim Lubbers. The store's Airport Road location also had some left.
Circle K and 7-Eleven convenience stores, each with more than a dozen outlets in the area, are also on the American Astronomical Society's list of retailers that carry the glasses. The Gazette was unable to contact each store to verify if any still had them for sale.
Some local 7-Elevens that are out of stock may receive more this week, according to a statement from the company.
"Check with your local retailers, but they are pretty much sold out," advised Jeremiah Walter, a marketing specialist with the Pikes Peak Library District, which gave away more than 4,000 pairs of the glasses in less than two weeks. "With the demand that they've had, there's no guarantees."
The Discovery Center sold about 5,000 pairs. It tried to order more, but the distributors were out, said Barger, the education specialist.
The Space Foundation and the library district have stockpiled some glasses for attendees at viewing events the organizations are holding on the day of the eclipse, but even those supplies are limited. The Discovery Center is also home to a telescope equipped with a filter that will allow guests to see the milestone, Barger said.
Those shopping for the shades should be wary of knockoffs for sale online that don't really protect eyes. According to the American Astronomical Society, the glasses should be certified by the International Organization for Standardization and come from a list of trusted manufacturers, available on eclipse.aas.org.
The historic event can still be witnessed without the glasses, said Dave Warner, outreach director for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society.
Warner recommends using a homemade "pinhole projector," which allows a viewer to see a projected image of the eclipse without staring directly at it. NASA's eclipse website, eclipse2017.nasa.gov, offers instructions to make the simple device using a cereal box. Onlookers can see a similar projection of the event by looking at the shadows cast by an index card with a hole poked in it, the gaps between the leaves of a tree or two outstretched hands with overlapping fingers, Warner said.
"We don't want anybody looking directly at the sun with their eyes," he said. "It's not worth it to do that. There's just too many other techniques you can use to do this safely."
Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108