WALLA WALLA -- Call them blister packs, hard shells, clam shells or something unprintable, but no matter what you call them, we'll bet you'll agree on one thing -- those hard, clear plastic packages molded around everything from fluorescent light bulbs to printer cartridges are nearly impossible to open.
You can't tear them. Scissors will barely make a cut. Knives will pierce a single layer of the plastic and sometimes what's inside.
"I've cut myself, even the product, trying to get into those stubborn packages," said Steve Fisher of Walla Walla. "Sooner or later everyone does."
But Fisher did more than get exasperated, he became inventive. His mother was his inspiration.
Each time Fisher, a retired dentist, visited his mother, Berneva Fisher of Southern California, she had a pile of blister packs sitting on her kitchen table, everything from toothbrushes to flashlights, for him to open.
"She was in her 80s at the time and didn't have enough strength in her hands to use scissors to open them and was afraid, at her age, to use anything sharp," he said.
The designing became a family project with everyone contributing ideas. Fisher's first thought was to make a manual opener but because of the problems his mother was having, he decided it needed to be self-powered.
"I also wanted a big grip so people with arthritis could hold it easily," Fisher said.
Designing and building the prototype took about two years, but finding a company to manufacture it was easy, thanks to the internet.
"The internet made it possible to send plans and designs almost instantly. We could all be on the same screen and talk about any problems, any kinks that needed to be worked out," he said.
Fisher's youngest daughter, Jenee Franklin and her husband, Thad, offered an old converted milk barn on their Walla Walla ranch as headquarters for the business. But just weeks before the first Zip-It Openers were due to arrive, Thad Franklin was killed in a construction accident.
"That left my daughter and granddaughter alone with the ranch and this new business. She obviously needed help," Fisher said.
So he and his wife, Karyl, moved from Sacramento to Walla Walla in September 2008 and Karyl Enterprises, which distributes the Zip-It Opener, was up and running.
The business end of the Zip-It Opener looks a lot like a handheld can opener. The sharp blades are covered with a removable guard, mainly to keep fingers away from them.
It runs for months on two AA batteries and will open most blister packs and hard plastic clamshells.
"I say most, yet so far I haven't run across any it won't open," Fisher said.
It's available only on the web at www.zipitopener.com, and for the holidays is priced at $20 plus shipping and handling.
It's regularly priced at $25.
"A Zip-It and batteries would make a great 'Open me first' Christmas gift," Fisher said. "Imagine, Christmas without bloodshed and Band-Aids."
Best of all, Zip-It Openers come in a cushioned, recyclable, easily opened cardboard box.