Experienced businessman hopes new downtown venture has sunny future
Steamboat Springs resident Joe Liss is bringing Maui Jim, Ray Ban, Pit Viper, Optic Nerve, Global Vision and many other top names in eye protection to Steamboat Springs with his new business venture Sunnies Shades.
“I started selling sunglasses in 2003 on a street corner in Lincoln, Nebraska,” said Liss. “I expanded to music festivals, and then I started doing motorcycle eyewear, and that’s where I spent about 10 years going around doing rallies, and I spent a lot of time at Sturgis.”
Over the years, he developed a love for eye protection and even worked as a representative for Global Vision. At one point, he was running three booths during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It’s one of the reasons the new downtown store features Global Vision and other sunglass producers that make eyewear for motorcyclists.
Liss said that after the 75th anniversary of the Sturgis gathering in 2015, he started to notice his business was slowing. He said a lot of the wholesalers and retailers he worked with started to drop off, and he felt like there was a drop in the number of customers he was seeing at the rallies.
“There was a big age group of people that can’t ride anymore, or aren’t riding anymore, and then a lot of the people that were my retailers that I wholesaled to were the same age and were all waiting for that 75th anniversary before they retired,” Liss said. “So, I saw the decline in that, but then at the same time, I noticed that a lot of stuff we were able to get for the motorcycle industry was being sold in bicycling industry.”
Liss’s brother was living in Steamboat Springs at the time, and Liss saw an opportunity in a town that called itself Bike Town, U.S.A.
“So, in 2013 we came out with our brand Bike Eyes,” Liss said. “They transition, going from light to dark, (and are) generally marketed to cyclists and those that are active outside.”
Liss said Bike Eyes offers affordable transitional eyewear for cyclists and anyone with an active lifestyle, and will be showcased along the many other brands that his new shop offers. He said his efforts at the Farmer’s Market the past four years were well received, so when the opportunity to open his new shop at 424 Lincoln Ave. presented itself, he jumped at the chance.
Sunnies Shades is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day and offers a wide range of selections from name brands like Maui Jim and Ray Ban to a number of more affordable options that are found on the bargain wall. Those sun glasses start at $15 a pair and are offered two for $25 or three for $30. The store also offers wear-over sunglasses, clip-ons for those that also wear prescription glasses and a bi-focal that combines tinted lenses with readers that Liss said will appeal to fly fishermen who need protection and a little help seeing smaller objects like flies or fishing line.
He said the shop is currently expanding and will be adding a few more top name brands in the coming weeks including Costa and Oakley sunglasses. Liss said customers who live in the Yampa Valley should also inquire about a local’s discount.
“Right now, Maui Jim is our top of the line,” Liss said. “But we also offer Pit Viper, which is is the fastest selling brand and glasses, and is probably the biggest thing in glasses since Oakley in the late 80s.”
Liss said he has gotten a lot of support from his landlord, who was familiar with his product from the Farmer’s Market and made it possible to make the downtown store a possibility.
“When I first came to town, it was just going to be working on the Bike Eye stuff,” Liss said. “But as the demand at the Farmer’s Market kept growing, it led to this.”
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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