Vision Expo East 2024 – The Last Hurrah

Entrance to Vision Expo East 2024 - courtesy of The Vision Council

Thousands of our colleagues gathered last weekend at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Midtown Manhattan one last time to learn, shop, network, and have fun one last time in New York City for Vision Expo East 2024. After almost 40 years, this was the last hurrah in New York City for the largest optical convention in the United States.

Vision Expo East has always been an optical wonderland and showcase of and to the North American optical market. It has and continues to be the place to go to shop for everything optical in the United States and Canada. At one time it seemed to take up every bit of exhibition space in the 660,000 square feet of exhibition space on the two main levels of the Jacob Javits Center.

While post-COVID the show had condensed to take up the entire 410,000 main-level, Vision Expo continues to be the optical trade fair the world wants to showcase their products to the thousands of optical professionals who come to New York every March. Add to the large exhibition floor are close to 100,000 square feet of classroom space that houses over 150 courses for optometrists and opticians.

Vision Ed photo at Vision Expo 2024 courtesy of The Vision Council

At times in the past, Vision Expo was so filled with events one would wonder whether people came to shop and learn, or just to play video games, collect optical swag, and party. While one could certainly do it all, there were always long lines of people at certain stands who seemed to have plenty of time on their hands to do nothing more than see if they could win a $1 branded water bottle or pick up another vinyl tote bag or cheap t-shirt to add to their collection.

There has always been plenty to see and do at Vision Expo East. After hours there were always parties big and small. Of course, having the event in New York City meant there was no shortage of great food. You name the culture and you are sure to find culinary masters of it in the Big Apple.

Vision Expo East 2024 Atleier

I have had both the pleasure and honor of traveling to many optical trade shows and fairs around the world, both big and small. I’ve made no secret of my wide-eyed admiration of several of the European optical trade events that eclipse Vision Expo in size, scale, and visual splendor. It continues to remain my mission to get as many North American ECPs to take the time and effort to make the journey to see one of these marvelous trade show events and be as blown away as I was the first time I visited these shows in the sheer volume that is the world-wide optical marketplace. I am still captivated by the splendor of these European shows year after year.  That being said, I still root for the home team and see improvements in Vision Expo each year.

Vision Expo East 2024

This year, The Vision Council and RX made Vision Expo East, the best version of the show I’ve experienced. From the big booths of the big optical players to the small startups who participated, Vision Expo East 2024 was a full show with plenty to see and do. Day one had long lines of people trying to get their badges as they all had to show ID to get them first. As if any of us are tall enough to pass as Bill Gerber. Almost every other show I attend allows you to print your badge at home, saving a ton of time and effort. Half of the shows allow you to scan your badge ID from your phone, helping to save the planet at the same time. Something for RX and The Vision Council to consider for next year.

I was particularly impressed with the revamped Atelier section of Vision Expo East. The booth spaces, while spartan in appearance, were just big enough for participants to display their independent brands for all to see and admire. Yes, the Atelier lacks the beauty and congruity of MIDO’s Lab Academy, but for a Vision Expo, this year’s Atelier made a believer that they are headed in the right direction. In the middle of the Atelier was a nice rest area with large sectional seating where one could hold meetings, accented with a DJ playing modern music that was kept to a reasonable volume. You didn’t have to try and shout over the music to chat with anyone. Something some other shows and a few other stands in other shows should emulate. Here is one of my video walkthroughs showing the Atelier and surrounding area.

The main stage at Vision Expo East featured optical fashion shows for the first time, reminiscent of the wonderful Catwalk fashion shows that 100% Optical does such an amazing job in London with. There were still plenty of other presentations, talks, and even performances as well.

Bridge Stage at Vision Expo east 2024 courtesy of The Vision Council

This year’s Vision Expo East also featured a special area where the Italian Trade Commission brought in over a dozen smaller Italian brands in a beautifully crafted large space with a cappuccino bar in the center. While the showcases were probably too tall by a foot or so, there was plenty to see in each space. Next door was a collection of French brands also showcasing their wares together, anchored by perennial exhibitor, Morel.

The ITC area courtesy of The Vision Council

In addition, there was real and comfortable carpeting at Vision Expo East this year. In years past, the carpet laid down seemed more to protect the concrete from us than us from the hardness of the floor below. This year though, the aisleways were a joy to wander on the new black carpets.

Vision Expo East 2024

The only “cringe” moment I had at Vision Expo this year was seeing the sign “Look East” in the back of the hall. This is the name of the area where many of the smaller Asian vendors were grouped together. I spoke to a few friends who also found the name to be a bit out of step with today’s sensibilities. However, perhaps Vision Expo is prepping us for the very un-woke atmosphere that we will experience in Florida next year.

Attendance at Vision Expo seemed a little off this year. Friday was very busy, but Saturday seemed a little slower than normal. Sunday, always the slowest day, seemed even slower than normal. That might have been exacerbated by the fact that many were hung over by St Patrick’s Day drinking the night before, or the beautiful weather of the weekend. I heard from several ECPs who said they were holding off on attending this year, in favor of going to Orlando next year. At the same time, I heard from other ECPs who proclaimed they had no intention of following the show south next year. How things actually shape up for 2025 remains to be seen. I for one plan on attending. Even with a seemingly truncated attendance, I heard of positive sales from many of the vendors I chatted with and at the end of an expensive weekend at a trade show, that’s what truly matters.

I like NY (c) The Optical Journal

I’ve always thought of making a sweatshirt that instead of saying the iconic “I LOVE NY” should read “I Like NY As A Friend, but think we should see other cities”…and so we shall, as Vision Expo East moves to Orlando, Florida starting next year.  Join The Optical Journal at Vision Expo East 2025, running February 19th through the 22nd 2025.

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