Total eclipse makes astronomical impact in Erie - TAI News
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A total solar eclipse from the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Oh., Monday, April 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

With the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania directly in the path of totality for April 8’s solar eclipse, the region saw a massive influx of tourists ready to view what for many would be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Those tourists also brought a significant influx of money to spend at local businesses in and around Erie, the largest Pennsylvania city on the eclipse path.

Visit Erie, the tourism promotion agency for Erie County, had expected 200,000 visitors for the eclipse and estimated the event would provide an economic boost of up to $50 million.

Visit Erie communications director Christine Temple told the Pennsylvania Independent that the economic impact of the eclipse was clearly evident for local businesses, even though data isn’t yet available to confirm whether prior estimates were accurate.

“We’re assuming that we got a pretty good number, because Erie was the largest city in Pennsylvania to be in totality,” Temple said. “So if you’re an eclipse chaser and you wanted to see that, you needed to come here.”

The county’s hotel tax, Temple said, actually contributes to the vast majority of Visit Erie’s budget; she suspects that hotel tax revenue was significantly higher than normal leading up to the event.

“About 95% of our funding comes from the hotel tax, and that’s countywide. So we’re going to be very interested to see those numbers, not just for April 8 and that weekend, but for the entire month to see what kind of a difference it compares to last April,” Temple said.

She heard anecdotally from local business owners about unheard-of crowds over the weekend leading up to the total eclipse: “From what I was hearing, all weekend, restaurants, breweries, bars, wineries were packed with people,” Temple said. “There were restaurants that I heard of in downtown, yesterday, once totality ended, people started heading out and wanted to get a bite to eat that the wait times were up to an hour, hour and a half at some of the downtown restaurants.”

Chris Sirianni, the owner of The Brewerie at Union Station in downtown Erie, confirmed this.

“It was a better-than-normal weekend leading into Monday, but we saw the real influx on Monday around noon, a couple hours before the eclipse,” Sirianni said. “We sat probably 400 people throughout Monday. We get about 100 normally.”

While Sirianni’s business wasn’t in the busiest area for eclipse tourists — which he said was most likely Erie’s waterfront — he did still see more out-of-town visitors in his brewery restaurant than he’d ever seen before. He said he loaded up on staff for Monday in anticipation of the eclipse.

“It’s a lot of people’s day off, but I think most were happy to have a busy Monday in April to make the extra money,” Sirianni said. “It was just a cool experience. It’s rare that you don’t see your locals as much but still have a full restaurant throughout. It’s crazy to walk around the restaurant and not recognize anybody.”

Because of the nature of the eclipse — it happened all across northwestern Pennsylvania and not just in a specific place — Erie locals were able to avoid the crowds, making even more room for tourists, according to Temple.

“That’s what makes it such a unique experience because it’s not like it’s not just downtown on the bayfront,” Temple said. “It is everywhere in Erie County. And I think that made it a lot easier on people that were coming in and also for the residents, if they didn’t want to be out with traffic and with crowds, they can watch it from their own backyard or they could go somewhere nearby.”

She said she was proud of the fact that the community was able to take advantage of the eclipse to showcase everything Erie has to offer: “I think it was really great how the community pulled together, not just Visit Erie. It was city and county officials and our businesses, our restaurants, our hotels, everybody just really got behind it,” Temple said. “And they got it. They understood that this was such an incredible, unique moment, and we needed to put our best foot forward and shine.”

It’s Temple’s hope that many of the eclipse visitors will be back, now that they’ve gotten a taste of the region.

“I think by having so many different events, tells people that, wow, there’s a lot to do here,” she said. “We need to come back and do more.”

Both Temple and Sirianni said the eclipse itself was a moment they’ll never forget.

“I needed to remind myself earlier in the day that when totality hit, I needed to stop watching what everybody was doing,” Temple said. “And I needed to take that moment, that three minutes and 41 seconds for myself. And I did. And I’m glad I did, because it was such a moving experience.”

“To see the sky go dark in the middle of the day, the beauty of the eclipse itself, but from the temperature drop to the light to the calmness and the quiet, you didn’t hear a car, you didn’t hear a bird — it was just surreal,” Sirianni said.

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