Area businesses hope to cash in on today’s total solar eclipse

Springfield, Clark County leaders have prepared a year for rare event.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Today — Monday, April 8, 2024 — will bring not only an astronomical event not seen in the region since 1806 — when the last total solar eclipse was visible in Ohio — but with it, an influx of visitors and an estimated surge in economic activity throughout the state.

A 124-mile-wide band of the state will experience the total solar eclipse tomorrow afternoon, and the region will get a front row seat within the path of totality.

Geographer Michael Zeiler, who tracks solar eclipses worldwide and provides detailed statistics and predictions via his website Great American Eclipse, estimates that around 7.3 million Ohio residents live inside the path of totality.

Zeiler estimates Ohio will see anywhere from 139,000 to 556,000 visitors to the state for today’s event.

This influx is likely to impact Ohio’s economy in big ways, with visitors spending on eclipse-related events and merchandise, and purchasing things like gas, food and lodging throughout the weekend.

Though it’s hard to predict the exact economic impact this year’s total solar eclipse will have on Ohio, data from other states impacted by a 2017 eclipse provides some context.

In 2017, a roughly 67-mile-wide band of the state of Wyoming experienced a total solar eclipse. According to an economic impact study completed by the state’s office of tourism following the event, around 196,000 visitors flocked to the state to catch a glimpse.

The study estimates visitors alone spent around $59.8 million in the state of Wyoming on things like transportation, recreation/entertainment, shopping, lodging and food and beverages. Wyoming residents traveling within the state to view the eclipse spent about $3.6 million in related expenses.

These figures do not include money spent by non-traveling residents who made eclipse-related purchases.

A much bigger impact could be expected in Ohio if Ziegler’s high visitor volume estimate proves accurate.

Given that this phenomenon hasn’t occurred in Ohio in more than two centuries — and isn’t expected to occur again in Ohio until 2099 — cities and businesses throughout the state are preparing to set records in more ways than one.

Full hotels, themed beers and merch

“We know that a number of local businesses are running specials both over the weekend, and on the Eclipse Day,” said Chris Schutte, vice president of Destination Marketing and Communications, for the Greater Springfield Partnership.

Schutte said the chamber’s Champion City Guide + Supply shop will also set up at the Eclipse over Springfield Celebration and offer limited-edition Total Eclipse t-shirts and several children’s items, including glow sticks, inflatable suns and moons, and planet stress balls.

Schutte said officials still don’t have a great handle on how many visitors will come to Clark County, but added: “Most of our hotels are either completely sold out, or nearing capacity. I think that’s a good indicator that we should expect a large influx of visitors into Springfield and Clark County.”

Miami County Visitors Bureau Director Leiann Stewart said all hotels within Miami County are booked through the weekend, which gives officials a good idea of what to expect, but she noted that some “eclipse chasers” will choose to visit on Monday and leave immediately after the event.

The weekend offers a great opportunity for local businesses, Stewart said, and many will cash in through the sale of special eclipse merchandise in shops and eclipse-themed drinks or dishes in restaurants.

Visitors bureaus in Clark, Darke and Miami counties are also selling apparel and mementos with their own eclipse-themed designs.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Influx to rural areas

Schutte said the number of visitors to Springfield and Clark County for the eclipse faced uncertainty because of the forecast last week.

“The weather is the big eclipse wildcard,” he said.

The big event may last for a short time Monday, but Schutte said preparations have been ongoing for a long time,

“I would like to assure people that every local agency from Emergency Management, to law enforcement, to ODOT has been preparing for this event for more than a year. They have all safety measures in place to ensure that this once-in-a-lifetime event goes smoothly for our residents and visitors,” he said.

Nearby, Darke County falls in the centerline totality area.

“We started planning for this over a year ago,” said Darke County Visitors Bureau Director Greg Billing. “We started having (monthly) meetings that the county (Emergency Management Agency) put together with the sheriff, Darke County schools superintendent, Wayne HealthCare, and other community members.”

These meetings mainly focused on logistics associated with sharp increases in visitors, Billing said, which can have an effect on traffic, cellular and internet services, business supply stock, and even gas availability.

A day of racing at Darke County’s Eldora Speedway can gather a total of 50,000 people, Billing said, but many of these are residents of Darke or nearby counties.

The solar eclipse weekend is markedly different, he noted, as visitors will likely flock to areas throughout the county as opposed to one location.

Either way, the county is still not sure how many visiting eclipse-watchers to expect, an uncertainty that’s shared by most city and agency officials throughout the region.

“It’s so hard to say, and I wish people could RSVP to this event so that we’d know what’s coming, but that’s not the case,” he said.

Still, county officials can get an idea based on the fact that the majority of rooms in the county’s four major hotels are nearly booked solid throughout the weekend, Billing noted.

In addition to hotel lodging, the Darke County Fairgrounds will host around 600 camping units on site.

Billing noted that the next quarterly lodging tax check, set to be received by the county this summer, will provide a more tangible piece of the full economic impact for Darke County.

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