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Wichitans endure long wait under the summer sun for eclipse glasses

Long waits for shoppers looking for solar eclipse glasses

Shoppers descended on Imagine That Toys store on Friday in Wichita, Kansas, searching for solar eclipse glasses for Monday's eclipse. (Video by Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)
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Shoppers descended on Imagine That Toys store on Friday in Wichita, Kansas, searching for solar eclipse glasses for Monday's eclipse. (Video by Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

The line looped through aisles, out the front door and around the corner — and another corner, all the way behind the store.

All for a pair of glasses that you’ll only need for perhaps a couple of hours Monday. And that’s only if clouds don’t obscure the near-total eclipse.

“We’re going to be in line longer than the eclipse lasts,” Cynthia Wentworth said as she trudged toward the end of the line at Imagine That Toys, which wasn’t even visible from where she was. “It’ll definitely be worth it.”

The toy store at 29th North and Rock was one of the few places where eclipse glasses were still available Friday — and those were only for people who had called ahead to reserve them.

It was not uncommon for people to wait in line for more than two hours on a hot August day that saw the heat index climb to just short of 100. At least one person fainted due to the heat while standing in line, prompting a 911 call shortly before 1:30 p.m.

“It’s like 15,000 degrees out here,” Michael Thomas said as he stood in line with his mother, Michelle.

The store began providing free bottles of water to people in line, and when Michael saw a man plop a case of bottles right in front of him, he shouted, “Yes! Yes!”

Gwen Ottenberg, the owner of Imagine That, said she’s seen her share of recent fads, including the recent fidget spinner craze. But they were nothing compared to this.

“This kind of chaos? I have not,” Ottenberg said. “This is insane.”

The woman who made it to the counter after more than two hours in line didn’t want to talk.

“I’m at work,” she said with a sheepish smile.

Several others in line said the same thing. Mike Hauschild of Wichita was among them.

“I don’t do lines,” he said. “It’s my own fault. They’ve been telling us for a year to buy them.”

Standing at nearly the end of the line, as the mid-afternoon sun beat down, Carol Grant made a vow.

“I’m saving my glasses for next time,” she said. “I’m not getting rid of them.”

Only people who had reserved glasses ahead of time could purchase them at the toy store. Several people, having heard the store had glasses, showed up without reservations only to be turned away.

As Friday unfolded, the search for eclipse glasses took on the flavor of a scavenger hunt. Social media would announce where glasses might still be found, only for others to post that location no longer had glasses.

Jack’s Wine and Spirits near Maize and 37th Street North posted on Facebook that it had Schlafly 12-packs that included a pair of eclipse glasses. They sold out in less than two hours.

“It’s been kind of crazy,” said Steve Roberts, a night manager at Jack’s. “It just blew up. I thought it was a gimmick thing: ‘Why would anyone buy a beer just for the glasses?’”

But they were snapped up in no time at all.

Facebook posts reported that Circle Ks around town still had glasses, but clerks at more than one of the convenience stores said they had been out for days.

“They sold out pretty fast,” Demarco Rouse, a clerk at the Circle K at Maple and Tracy, said with a chuckle. “I hope we get more. I need to buy some.”

Stan Finger: 316-268-6437, @StanFinger

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