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Midwestern towns are eager for the visitors – and dollars – coming their way with the eclipse

In this file photo from Aug. 21, 2017, Clarey Huck was peering through her eclipse glasses just before totality in De Soto, Missouri. Several towns within the path of the coming total eclipse on April 8 are preparing for thousands of visitors.
Ryan Delaney
/
St. Louis Public Radio
In this file photo from Aug. 21, 2017, Clarey Huck was peering through her eclipse glasses just before totality in De Soto, Missouri. Several towns within the path of the coming total eclipse on April 8 are preparing for thousands of visitors.

Towns in the path of the total eclipse could see millions of dollars flow into their communities to witness a few minutes of darkness when the moon passes in front of the sun.

Small towns within the path of a celestial event are gearing up for a massive influx of visitors and dollars.

For many in the Midwest, April 8 – the date of the total eclipse – has been circled on their calendars for years.

“The beautiful thing about an eclipse is that you don’t have to do anything; it’s going to happen,” said Brenda Newbern, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

The path of totality and partial contours crossing the U.S. for the 2024 total solar eclipse occurring on April 8, 2024.
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio
The path of totality and partial contours crossing the U.S. for the 2024 total solar eclipse occurring on April 8, 2024.

The city of 39,540 in eastern Missouri is like most smaller communities in the path of totality; it’s got a handful of local events planned and places to view the eclipse. Newbern estimates the eclipse may bring an additional 17,000-20,000 people to the city.

“This is an opportunity for you to share with people that are going to come,” she said. “We don’t even have to invite them, the sun has done that for us.”

Her office has been talking with local businesses to make sure they’re open and ready for guests, especially because the eclipse takes place on a Monday.

“Mondays in a small town, things are closed, attractions are closed, downtown restaurants are closed,” Newbern said.

About 50 miles to the northeast, officials in Carbondale, Illinois, are especially prepared, according to Steven Mitchell, the city’s economic development director. This is the second time the community has been within the path of a total eclipse within just a few years.

“Carbondale has won the celestial lottery. We’ve had two lifetime events occurring within seven years of each other,” Mitchell said.

A number of people have told him they traveled to Carbondale in 2017 and intend to come back for this year’s eclipse. Mitchell expects the influx will happen the day before.

“The lesson we learned from 2017 was that our visitors didn’t really start arriving in any large numbers until Saturday night,” Mitchell said. “Many of them arrived on Sunday, and many more arrived on Monday morning.”

Carbondale has several events scheduled, including a Comic Con, for the tens of thousands of people Mitchell expects will come to the community.

A strip of paint ran through Rainmaker Art Studio to mark the line of totality for the 2017 total solar eclipse in the tiny community of Makanda, just south of Carbondale, Illinois. The last eclipse had an $8 million dollar impact in Carbondale.
Carolina Hidalgo
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A strip of paint ran through Rainmaker Art Studio to mark the line of totality for the 2017 total solar eclipse in the tiny community of Makanda, just south of Carbondale, Illinois. The last eclipse had an $8 million dollar impact in Carbondale.

Economic impact for small towns

It’s a critical day for smaller towns and communities looking to capitalize on the potential influx of dollars.

Sarah Wolfe is the eclipse director for Vincennes and Knox County, Indiana. She estimates the eclipse travel to southeast Indiana could translate to $14 million in economic impact.

“We are not in a position economically to let an opportunity like this pass by, and we’re gonna grab it if we can,” Wolfe said. “Over the course of the last year, I have not spoken to a single organization that has either had enough money or enough volunteers. It’s heartbreaking.”

But she said an eclipse can provide that vital economic boost. Wolfe points to the numbers of people other communities in the path of totality saw in 2017.

“When we share those numbers it’s like, ‘Hey, this is truly an opportunity for you to make enough money to hire more people,’” she said.

Carbondale experienced an $8 million economic impact back in 2017, and Mitchell expects to match that with this eclipse. He’s heard from several restaurant owners who have said they saw unprecedented numbers the last time around.

“Each and everyone of them said, ‘I had the single biggest day of my entire restaurant career over decades,’” he said.

In Poplar Bluff, Missouri, officials are estimating a $6 million impact.

The town of 16,225 in the southeastern part of the state has packed four days of concerts, festivals and other activities in the lead up to the eclipse, said Steven Halter, president and CEO of the greater Poplar Bluff area chamber of commerce.

He expects his community could see some 20,000 additional visitors.

“We wanted to not just have people in for the eclipse, but we wanted to have them in for a four day celebration,” he said. “We know this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for anyone that’s planning on attending and viewing the eclipse.”

Looking to the future

Communities are hoping to make a big impression and find ways to bring visitors back even after the eclipse is over.

The chamber in Poplar Bluff has launched three events in hopes to encourage repeat visitors. Following 2017, Carbondale resurrected its Halloween celebration for the community to have a signature annual event. And Vincennes has an annual Revolutionary War reenactment over Memorial Day that’s tied its theme to the eclipse.

“Reenactors come from all over the country to do battles, there’s blacksmiths and historically accurate food,” Wolfe said.

These follow-up events can build on the attention smaller communities are receiving from many publications in the lead up to the eclipse.

“For us to get national publicity, it’s priceless,” Halter said. “There’s no marketing dollars that we could spend that’s going to have the impact that those types of publications can have and really put us on the map.”

Newbern in Cape Girardeau agrees. She adds the eclipse gives them an opportunity to show off the community to many newcomers.

“The key is, how we treat them, how their experiences is,” she said. “Hospitality at its best, that's going to be the best thing that we can do. If we do that and do it well then we will have return visitors.”

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues.

Eric Schmid
Eric Schmid covers Economic Development for St. Louis Public Radio. He's primarily focused on examining policies and ideas to drive population and business growth throughout the St. Louis region.
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