Eclipseville: solar event brought economic boost to Kentucky town

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 9/8/17

When the director of the Hopkinsville-Christian County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau received an email 10 years ago about a total solar eclipse coming to her small Kentucky town, she thought someone was playing a practical joke.

A quick …

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Eclipseville: solar event brought economic boost to Kentucky town

Posted

When the director of the Hopkinsville-Christian County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau received an email 10 years ago about a total solar eclipse coming to her small Kentucky town, she thought someone was playing a practical joke.

A quick Google search proved her wrong.

“I kept bringing it up at meetings where our community leadership was, and they would look at me like I was crazy, but I kept having to do that until they really started thinking about it and realizing what a big deal it was when we started hitting national papers and they were getting calls from friends who had read about it somewhere else in another state or whatever,” Cheryl Cook told a Western Kentucky University journalism student recently.

Five years ago, an eclipse expert came to Hopkinsville Community College and showed pictures of thousands of people gathered in the middle of nowhere to witness an eclipse.

That’s when Carter Hendricks, president/CEO of the Christian County Chamber of Commerce, realized that Hopkinsville, population 32,000, had been given a gift when NASA had designated it as the point of greatest eclipse.

While most Americans would have to settle for a partial eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, stargazers in Hopkinsville would see the sky go dark for two minutes and 41 seconds.

In January 2015, Hendricks was elected mayor — the second youngest in the city’s history. Preparing for the eclipse, which was still over two years away, was a key point on his agenda.

“I looked at the eclipse as a wonderful opportunity not only to host eclipse chasers but more importantly to really begin rethinking and reinventing ourselves as a community, so that as folks from all over the world came here, they would find an experience that would cause them to perhaps want to come back after Aug. 21, 2017,” Hendricks told the WKU student journalist.

When Hendricks realized that planning an event expected to draw over 100,000 tourists to his city was more than his office or the local visitor’s bureau could handle, he created a new position — solar eclipse marketing and events consultant.

Though some in town remained skeptical that two minutes of darkness would draw crowds to Hopkinsville, others decided they wanted a piece of the estimated $30,000 economic impact.

New businesses opened in the downtown area, including several eateries, a brewery and an art studio.

“There’s no doubt that the eclipse has captured the imagination of the residents of this region and that’s allowed us to then capitalize off that and encourage people to dream bigger dreams and expect more out of our own community,” Hendricks told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “So our committment once we get past Aug. 21 is not to slow down.”

In the weeks leading up to the eclipse, the historic town clock was repainted, and the lights on a downtown theatre marquee were restored.

Someone even thought to take down a couple of Most Wanted posters that had been displayed on a shuttered storefront for years.

On Aug. 21, an estimated 150,000 eclipse chasers from at least 46 states, 20 countries and three U.S. territories descended on Hopkinsville (which city officials officially renamed “Eclipseville” for the weekend).

Then, by nightfall, they were gone, and the residents of Hopkinsville were left to chart their town’s future.

One former columist from the local daily newspaper seemed to chafe at reports that described her hometown as sleepy and idyllic.

In a post for “100 Days in Appalachia,” Jennifer Brown pointed out that Hopkinsville is like any other town where leaders try to sweep real problems under the rug and continually disappoint with their rhetoric about prosperity that lies just over the horizon.

It’s going to take more than a solar eclipse to help Hopkinsville, she said. It’s going to take a community effort.

“I think people wanted a reason to feel good about Hopkinsville. Getting ready for company and then reveling in the party did something significant for the town’s self-esteem. Now if we can just keep those wanted fugitive posters out of the heart of downtown, if more entrepreneurs like (coffee shop owners) Amanda and April see value in downtown, if more people want to spruce up and dig in, then I’ll believe this turn in Hopkinsville’s fortunes is real. I’ll believe it’s about much more than a solar eclipse,” Brown wrote.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.