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Businesses prepare for influx of eclipse visitors

Businesses prepare for influx of eclipse visitors

August 17th, 2017 by Philip Joens in Local News

Brian Shulte and Jon Robertson buy eclipse glasses Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 from Sam Bushman, right, at Samuel's Tuxedos in downtown Jefferson City. Bushman, who also serves as Cole County's presiding commissioner, personally provided eclipse glasses to all EMS and sheriff deputies that are scheduled to work during the eclipse.

Photo by Mikala Compton /News Tribune.

Jefferson City businesses are bracing for a busy weekend as thousands of visitors flock to town for Monday's solar eclipse.

Several Jefferson City businesses said they expect to see an increase in business this weekend. But city officials said it's too early to determine what the overall impact might be.

During Monday's solar eclipse, the moon will pass between the sun and Earth. Parts of 14 states, including most of Mid-Missouri, will be able to see a total solar eclipse, where the moon appears to completely cover the sun for about two and a half minutes. It will be the first total solar eclipse visible over the contiguous United States since 1979.

Because of its rarity, the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau is preparing for up to 50,000 visitors.

Randy Allen, president of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, said the exposure could help the city in the long run.

"It puts you on the map," Allen said. "It puts your name in front of people — and people that normally wouldn't know that. So it helps when you go to market."

Compared to the city's Independence Day festival, this could draw more people from outside the region, Allen said.

"Everybody has Fourth of July celebrations," Allen said. "This is unique because there's not that many locations. So if people want to see it, they've got to come to the event."

Several Jefferson City business owners expressed tepid excitement when talking about the eclipse. All think they will see a bump in business, but they don't know how big that bump will be.

Butch Ruprecht, who owns seven McDonald's franchises in the Jefferson City area, thinks it will be dead around the time the eclipse begins Monday afternoon. He's not sure when it will be busy this weekend, but his restaurants will be fully staffed and prepared when the wave hits.

"It's hard to tell," Ruprecht said. "That's the big question. If you go by what everybody is saying, it's Sunday evening through Tuesday breakfast."

Most festivities will take place at the North Jefferson City Recreation Area and downtown near the Missouri State Capitol. J. Pfenny's Sports Grill & Pub manager Jay Cheshire told the News Tribune in July that the East High Street restaurant and bar expects to be full during the eclipse. A company from Branson with 40 people already booked a party to watch the eclipse on J. Pfenny's outdoor patio weeks ago.

The effect could be felt far away from downtown, though.

Pita Pit franchise owner Jeremy Bryson was also unsure of how busy it will get, given the restaurant's location at 2727 W. Edgewood Drive.

Capital Mall General Manager Jamie Reed noted the mall has a large parking lot with plenty of open space to view the eclipse. Reed said most tenants in the mall plan to be fully staffed. Even if the eclipse doesn't provide a huge boost, he does think it will give mall tenants more sales than they'd see on most Monday afternoons.

"There's several hotels out here on this end of town," Reed said. "I don't think it's going to hurt anything."

Jefferson City's 1,100 hotel rooms sold out for Sunday months ago. Rooms are still available Saturday and Monday, though CVB Executive Director Diane Gillespie said area hotels are more booked Monday night than Saturday night.

Plans Gillespie shared with the News Tribune show the city estimated hotels in Jefferson City could make about $88,000 in revenue before taxes are collected just for Sunday night. After taxes are collected, taxing entities could receive about $6,000, just from the lodging tax generated Sunday night if hotel rooms are booked for an average of $80 each.

The city is also charging campers $75 each to camp at the North Jefferson City Recreation area Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Visitors only coming in for Monday also have the option of paying just $25 to camp for the day.

Katherine Reed, CVB communications manager, said Tuesday that 55 tent campers, 12 car campers and 30 RV campers from 18 states and England had signed up to camp there. Phil Stiles, the program manager of special events for the Jefferson City Department of Parks & Recreation, said campers at the recreation area could generate $7,000-$10,000 in revenue for the city.

City estimates show 200 campers at the recreation area will spend an average of $198 per day, which would generate an average of $39,600. Stiles confirmed that figure is still accurate.

The city also has room for 7,500 cars to park at the recreation area and the 63 Diamonds baseball fields. It will charge $10 per car to park Monday and run a shuttle with three school buses taking festival attendees from the 63 Diamonds complex to the main recreation area festival. Camping spots at Binder Park Campground, which cost $20 per day, are also sold out, Reed said.

Taxing entities could make more money from sales taxes generated by other things visitors buy, like gas, food and other retail goods.

Jill Snodgrass, president of Daily Plan-It, which leads the organization of the Capital Eclipse Celebration with the CVB, said the city expects about 20,000 visitors to travel to Jefferson City on the day of the eclipse. If that many travelers come to Jefferson City just on the day of the event, that alone could make an economic impact of $1.1 million on the city, according to Snodgrass and the CVB plans. Snodgrass said money raised from parking primarily will cover the cost of holding the festival.

Gillespie said the CVB doesn't have more accurate estimates for what the eclipse's overall economic impact will be.

Businesses also could use the event to create a fun day for employees.

Greg Kemna, president of the East Side Business Association and owner of Kemna Collision Repair, noted several companies in Jefferson City, including his own business, are having events to let employees watch the eclipse during work.

"I think most businesses are going to give short periods to their workers to go out and see this once-in-a-lifetime event," Kemna said.

The East Side Business Association also is hosting an eclipse-viewing cookout from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday in Ellis Porter-Riverside Park — after hosting the all-day Total Eclipse of the Park event at the same location Sunday, featuring live music, sci-fi movies, an artist village, and family and children's activities.

Ruprecht said his McDonald's locations bought eclipse glasses for all of their employees and will give employees prizes during the eclipse.

Allen said the chamber will close at 11 a.m. Monday so its staff members can experience the event with family. Some companies are taking the same approach, he said.

"There's so many things going on," Allen said. "We wanted our employees to be able to experience that if they want to."