When Andi Figart arrives to work at the New Port Richey Library, she often finds small groups of people waiting for the doors to open up at 10 a.m.
But when she arrived Thursday morning she had never seen this before:
People lined up in lawn chairs outside the library like they were waiting for Black Friday.
They were waiting to grab the hottest consumer product out there right now: the paper glasses that NASA has touted as the safest way to view Monday's solar eclipse.
The library had 75 pairs on hand. Figart thought it would take all day to hand them out.
"Within 10 minutes," the library director said, "we were completely out."
Everyone is going eclipse crazy. The last time the U.S. saw a total eclipse was in 1979. Finding the proper eyewear to view Monday's eclipse has become about as hard as finding a Tickle Me Elmo during the Christmas hysteria of 1996.
Stores across Tampa Bay — and the country — are sold out.
"When we had the last one back in 1979 the internet wasn't around like it is now," said Museum of Science and Industry innovation director Anthony Pelaez. "This is the first major eclipse .... that people will make a part of their social media experience."
That's why he's not surprised solar eclipse glasses are so hard to come by.
"Plus, people procrastinate," he chuckled.
The solar eclipse glasses resemble the old, square 3D glasses people used to get at the movies. They have black film lenses with a high shade rate to protect eyes from the sun's harmful rays. That's especially important in the bay area, where sky gazers will only be able to see a partial eclipse — the sun will not be fully covered — from 1:17 to 4:14 p.m. Monday.
Parents are venting their frustrations on Facebook: They've called CVS, Home Depot, Lowe's, Walgreens and Walmart, all to no avail.
"What I can't understand is why nobody knew about the demand," Theresa Kappitt said. Her son, a sophomore at St. Petersburg's Lakewood High School, needs the glasses to view the eclipse at school. She and other parents say they've been turned away at storefronts claiming they're sold out.
The demand has forced some to look for some unusual alternatives — such as welding goggles.
NASA says it is safe to use welding goggles in place of the certified cardboard frames, but they have to have a shade level of at least 12. Experts, however, have said level 13 is ideal for eclipses.
But most stores don't carry that level, said Charles Crumpton III, manager at Crumpton's Welding Supplies in St. Petersburg.
"Welders don't use them too much," Crumpton said of those darker goggles. He had a few in stock, but they sold out. That hasn't stopped the phone calls, though.
"It's funny the roundabout way people are asking about them," he said.
A few callers have tried. Some acted as if they were getting ready for an intense welding job before Crumpton cut them off and asked if they only wanted the goggles to watch the eclipse.
"I just want to put an answering machine on my phone that (says) I don't I have any," he said.
Some are already doing that. Warby Parker, the online eyeglass retailer with a storefront in Tampa, has an automatic message that says most of its supply has already been handed out at its locations across the country.
A message about the limited number of eclipse glasses available is the first thing callers hear when they dial the Hillsborough County library, too. The message directs callers to the library's website, where it explains 200 glasses will be made available for children to share during its 2:30 event at the North Tampa Branch Library, 8916 North Blvd.
NASA has resources on its website that explain how to check to make sure people use certified, safe eyeglasses.
Amazon had to recall some of the glasses it sold because they didn't meet international safety standards. The top-sellers that do meet the standards are on back-order. Check the local Craigslist ads and eclipse glasses were being sold from $2 to $100, as speculators tried to profit off the frenzy.
As a cheap alternative, Figart said the New Port Richey Library started handing out instructions to help people put together their own pinhole projectors for safe viewing. It creates a projection of the eclipse onto the ground so there's no risk of hurting the eyes.
The approaching eclipse has also sparked an intellectual frenzy: Figart keeps displaying books about astronomy and space exploration. As soon as they go up, patrons check them out.
MOSI will hold a free eclipse viewing party from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at the museum at 4801 E Fowler Ave. in Tampa. Pelaez said the museum will lend — not sell — eclipse glasses to the crowd. It will also have pinhole viewers and special telescopes on hand.
"A whole generation of young scientists will be inspired by this event," he said.
Times staff writer Samantha Putterman contributed to this report. Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected]
How to make a pinhole viewer:
It's not as safe as a certified pair of solar eclipse glasses. But A homemade pinhole projector will allow people to safely project an image of the eclipse onto the ground, While not exactly the same as the glasses, a homemade pinhole projector still allows one to experience the eclipse so they don't have to look directly into the sky.
All one needs is two pieces of white card stock, aluminum foil, a thumbtack and tape.
If crafts aren't for you, NASA will live-stream the eclipse.