Return to Expo City

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As I walk the aisles of Vision Expo, I find myself reflecting on the show and how it’s changed over the years. Although I missed the very first Vision Expo in New York in 1986, I’ve covered nearly every Expo since then, both East and West. Over the course of some 61 shows I’ve filled dozens of notebooks, taken thousands of photos and written countless stories about the companies, products and people that all make up the Expo experience.

What I always find remarkable—and this goes for any trade show—is that Vision Expo is essentially a temporary city. Vision Expo City exists for only three days, twice a year. But during that brief time it is much like any other city. There are streets and avenues laid out in a practical grid and dotted with restaurants, shops and familiar landmarks. It has traffic and even traffic jams. Like any great city, it’s both a center of commerce and a center of learning. And it’s always filled with the sound of voices that resonate in many accents and languages.

  

All cities are the sum of their neighborhoods, and Expo City is no exception. Because it’s an optical city, though, its neighborhoods have distinctive and unifying optical characteristics. The Galleria, The Underground, the Lenses + Processing and Medical zones all have their own look and feel. Sometimes it’s hard to believe they are part of the same show.

Walking from one neighborhood to another, I always get the sense that many of the inhabitants are a bit provincial. They tend to stick around their block and don’t get around to visiting other neighborhoods too often. It wouldn’t hurt them to take a stroll around town once in a while to get some fresh air and a fresh viewpoint.

  

What I like best is visiting the familiar neighborhood characters. We’ve all seen them, show after show, year after year, standing in their booths, keeping a watch over the neighborhood comings and goings. Sadly, some of them have passed on, though they remain in our memories.

A few years ago, some pundits predicted that virtual trade shows would replace real trade shows. Just stay home and click through a virtual tour of the exhibits, they said. Boy, were they were wrong. The virtual experience can’t compete with the dynamic, in-person experience. You can’t press the flesh on-line, or feel the merchandise or get the pulse of the industry. There’s also no substitute for the feeling of belonging to a community that occurs when you step into the Expo exhibition hall and are surrounded by thousands of people who are all there for the same reasons as you.

In the end, it’s all about business. There is simply no other way to generate the millions of dollars of revenue for this industry than to have a three-day trade show twice a year.

To borrow a line from a famous song, when it comes to Vision Expo, there’s no business like show business.

Disclosure: A version of this article ran 13 years ago in Vision Monday. My thoughts and feelings about Vision Expo haven’t changed much, though. So I decided that this Vision Expo weekend would be a perfect time to dust off the article and update it for VM readers.