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Coast to coast, eclipse business is booming

Solar eclipse

As Mayor Hyrum Johnson of Driggs, Idaho, waits for the arrival of between 40,000 and 100,000 visitors eager to witness the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental U.S. in decades on Aug. 21, he's feeling apprehensive.

"What mayor wouldn't be nervous," said Johnson, whose town has a population of about 1,200 full-time residents in a county of about 10,000. "If I weren't concerned,  I wouldn't be doing my job."

Officials in Driggs, best known as a mecca for outdoor sports and for producing barley used to make Budweiser, have been preparing for this cosmic event -- when the moon's shadow completely blocks the daytime sun -- for the past few years. For planning purposes, Driggs officials are figuring on the high end of the visitor estimate, though they aren't expecting that many to show up.

Johnson and many other local officials in communities on the eclipse's path, which will stretch from Oregon to South Carolina, aren't sure what to expect. Even so, they say they aren't leaving anything to chance.

Eclipse fever is rising across the nation

"We're encouraging residents to do their shopping in advance so that the stores can restock for the weekend influx," Johnson said.

Hotel and motel accommodations are growing scarce in communities that will benefit from being at the right heavenly place at the right time. People can try their luck on Airbnb and similar sites, but they better be prepared to pay steep prices. Someone in Driggs is offering a private room in a house for $750 per night on Airbnb. Campgrounds will also be crowded.

According to Johnson, the nearby Caribou-Targhee National Forest received 3,500 applications for one of its locations -- which can accommodate only about 300.

The potential for sun-size headaches abound.

"Imagine 20 Woodstock festivals occurring simultaneously across the nation," said the Great American Eclipse site. "There's a real danger during the two minutes of totality that traffic still on the road will pull over at unsafe locations with distracted drivers behind them."

The town of Beatrice, Nebraska (population 12,362), expects as many as 50,000 visitors, many of whom will be headed to the Homestead National Monument, four miles outside town. Homestead is hosting scientists from NASA and Bill Nye the Science Guy at its eclipse-watching events.

NASA animation of solar eclipse

Beatrice officials are also hoping that the visitors will remember the town with the catchy slogan "I got mooned in Beatrice." It'll be available on t-shirts and, of course, boxer shorts that are being sold by the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce. Its head, Lora Young, is trying to keep a positive attitude about an event that's subject to the vagaries of the weather.

"I have no control over it," she said. "It will be whatever it will be."

Other Nebraska communities, such as North Platte, Kearney and Lincoln will also see the total eclipse. It's a boon for the state's $5 billion tourism industry, which also is promoting Nebraska's 150th birthday. According to the Great American Eclipse site, Nebraska is the closest destination for 33 million Americans and will see between 117,000 and 466,000 visitors. The Cornhusker state has a population of 1.9 million.

"It's truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said John Ricks, director of the Nebraska Tourism Commission.

Nashville, Tennessee, one of the biggest cities in the eclipse's path, also is ready.

According to Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp., city officials plan to take precautions such as installing signs to tell people they can't stop in the middle of the road to look at the eclipse.

"The city is prepared as much as they can be for the unknown," Spyridon said.

Tens of thousands are also expected to descend on St. Joseph, Missouri (population 76,000). The city also is holding its largest-ever arts and music festival, dubbed the "Total Eclipse of the Arts," scheduled for the weekend leading up to the Monday eclipse.

Illinois town prepares for tourism influx during solar eclipse

"This is essentially our Super Bowl," said Beth Conway, spokeswoman for the St. Joseph Convention & Visitors Bureau. "If we see anywhere near the amount of people that they're telling us, it will probably be the biggest event in our history."

American Paper Optics, one of four companies that makes eclipse safety glasses that meet international safety standards, hopes to outfit many of the tourists. Company CEO John Jerit began preparing for this eclipse two years ago.

Jerit might want to keep pumping out glasses. After all, it's only another seven years before the next total solar eclipse sweeps across the U.S. -- on April 8, 2024.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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