The European market is suffering also from the American tragedy. GrandVision says it experienced sharp sales declines at all its stores throughout Europe, except in Luxembourg, in the first few days that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in America. Most affected were the big GrandOptical stores in Paris, such one close to the city's tallest skyscraper and others located in areas that could be targets of terrorism, as well as other outlets located in high-traffic areas like city centers and shopping malls.

In disclosing lower-than-expected revenues for the 3rd quarter ended Sept. 30, the European French-based retail group indicated today that the situation has returned to normal all over the continent, except to some extent in the UK, Ireland and Switzerland. According to the management, consumers have simply postponed their purchases, or decided to go for cheaper frames and lenses without special coatings, and barring new disasters, the 4th quarter will bring the sector back up to between 0 and 2 percent points above the GNP.

GrandVision's total sales increased by 6 percent to 149 million euros in the quarter, but the growth on a comparable store basis declined to 1 percent from the 7 percent rate of the first half of the year. Still on a same-store basis, sales rose by 4 percent in France, but they were down 3 percent in the UK and Ireland. They were flat in the rest of Europe, despite a 24 percent increase in absolute terms. In France, while the Solaris chain of sunglass stores had a same-store gain of 12 percent, or 20 percent up on an absolute basis, the Générale d'Optique chain grew by only 5 percent, and the more up-market GrandOptical chain was up 3 percent.

While profit figures for the latest quarter will be published at a later date, the management is still hopeful of reaching a 6 percent operating margin for the full year, thanks also to effective cost controls and more limited investments. About two-thirds of GrandVision's sales are generated by frames, and the rest by lenses, with the highest margins on lenses and private label frames.

There is still some unconfirmed speculation that Fielmann may want to buy GrandVision. The large German optical retail chain indicates that its stores suffered only small declines in units after Sept. 11, but sales are now more or less at the same level as one year ago all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Fielmann's concentration on the lower end of the market may explain in part this performance.