What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell us

They put the digits in New Year’s glasses

Ilya Marritz Dec 31, 2014
HTML EMBED:
COPY

They put the digits in New Year’s glasses

Ilya Marritz Dec 31, 2014
HTML EMBED:
COPY

When the clock strikes midnight, what will you be wearing? Those silly, disposable glasses that have the digits of the new year built into the frames? There’s a business story behind those glasses, involving intellectual property, overseas manufacturing and friendship.

Richard Sclafani and Peter Cicero came up with the concept for the glasses on a Friday night in January 1990. They were hanging out at Cicero’s house, drinking beers and doodling.

“And then suddenly, nobody knows why, Pete just drew the number 2000 on a piece of paper, and he drew two little eyeballs inside the zeroes,” Sclafani says.

An idea was born: Make frames out of the digits of the coming year. 1991 would be easy, with those big round nines.

Most people probably would have dropped their brilliant idea in the cold light of the following dawn. Instead, they did the opposite. They found a manufacturer near Seattle to make prototypes and started testing the market.

“I sent about 300 of ’em to my nephew back in New York, and he went down to Times Square and put those glasses on and started selling ’em,” Sclafani says. “And he sold the whole 300 in about an hour. So we really knew we had something then.”

It was a homespun operation. Sclafani and Cicero spent their own money building the business and hired about 100 neighbors to do seasonal work when it was time to ship the glasses.

Business grew each year, peaking in December 1999, with a half-million 2000-edition glasses sold.

After that, business fizzled. No one felt much like celebrating 2002, after the 9/11 terror attacks. And competitors started flooding the market with knockoffs made overseas. Sclafani and Cicero had a design patent, but they learned it doesn’t afford much protection.

The pair got out of the new year’s glasses business in 2008.

Did they at least get rich along the way?

“No not at all,” says Sclafani and adds: If you want to make novelties, you should do it because it’s fun. If the idea is popular, he says, “I can guarantee you will get ripped off.”

Tonight, Sclafani and Cicero will probably watch the party in Times Square on TV – and people wearing the style of glasses they invented.


Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled one of the founders’ names Caruso instead of Cicero.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.