Monday, August 14, 2017

Small, needy towns wary of trying to draw crowds for eclipse, but plan modest events, and hope

The old saying goes, "You have to spend money to make money." Some small towns along the totality path of the Aug. 21 solar eclipse are doing just that: sprucing up local facilities, hiring extra law enforcement, and planning festivals that they hope will be big money-makers. They also hope visitors might see what a great place their town is to live and work. But some cash-strapped towns say they don't have the money to buy in on eclipse fever, and residents worry about committing resources to cater to crowds that may never show up.
A melon vendor and customers in Wickliffe, Ky. (New York Times photo: Andrea Morales)
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Wickliffe, Ky., where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet, is one such community. The shrinking town of 670 has one defunct paper mill that closed in 2015, a few restaurants, and no longer has a police officer or a hotel. Because the town is in the path of totality, Mayor George Lane thought about cashing in on eclipse fever, as Hopkinsville, Ky., has done. "But the millions flocking to see the eclipse will also mean a logistical headache, a claim on local resources in places like Wickliffe that have few resources left," Campbell Robertson reports for The New York Times. "I kept reading more and more were coming," Lane told Robertson. "We’re just not geared up to handle this."

The nearby village of Barlow is similarly down on its luck, with no police officer, hotel, grocery store, gas station, or drug store. But Barlow's mayor, Jo Wilfong, says she's not going to pass up the opportunity. "The city is planning a big barbecue on eclipse day," Robertson reports. "Live music is lined up, and T-shirts are for sale ('I Blacked Out In Barlow, Ky')." The town, having recently voted to allow alcohol sales, "will even have a beer tent," he adds. Wilfong says making money isn't the point of the town's eclipse festivities. "We’re just opening up this area to people who have never been here before, who might see this as a business opportunity or a place to live," she told Robertson. Though there are few businesses in town, "maybe somebody will look around, see a nice, friendly town and decide to open a convenience store," Robertson writes. "That would be the jackpot. It is not impossible to imagine."

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