Well, now. Ol’ Sol has come and gone and come again on our Oregon coast and we locals are still here. What’s not here are the catastrophic failures of our electricity, telecommunications, water and sewer services we were repeatedly warned about.
But, most of all, what’s not here are the hundreds of thousands of tourists that were supposed to turn our entire coastline to mush. They just didn’t show up.
I’d bet, never in recorded history, have so many prepared so much for so long for so few. The traffic elves tell us all the highways between I-5 on the East to the Pacific on the West didn’t carry much more than the normal August vacation load. Friends drove in from Portland the morning of the big show with no delays.
As for the sad economic repercussions, my guess is many local businesses up and down the beaches were their own worst enemies. Not all. But many.
For months, there were numerous reports of price gouging for the period up to and including the eclipse weekend. A lot of motel/hotel rooms normally $150-$200 a night were suddenly priced at $1,000-$1,500 a night (three night minimum). I was wondering, considering all those price increases, if our little family would have taken a chance on the always unpredictable Oregon coastal weather environs and paid that $1,500 a night only to wake up to a heavy layer of clouds and fog. We wouldn’t have. Apparently we weren’t alone.
Gas prices started to tick up days ago. Restaurant menus were reprinted with prices two and three times the originals. We had lunch at a favorite local dive last week. Gone were the usual lists of fare. In their place, the waitress handed us a poorly printed sheet of paper with about half the items and double and triple the price. Bottle of water $3 - order of onion rings $12 - burgers $12 and up. And up.
As we looked first at the menus and then back to her, she said “Don’t worry about the prices. They’re not for locals.”
Now, I don’t have a problem with a shrewd businessperson making a buck or two when a special opportunity comes along. No, Sir. That’s enterprise in action. BUT enterprise and opportunity need to be tempered with a dose of reality that jacking up prices can reach a tipping point where people say “NO!”
That “NO” point was apparently reached in many coastal communities this week even as our real estate just happened to fall under the middle of the eclipse track as it entered North America.
So, grocery stores are left with aisles filled with stacks of goods ordered up for the expected hordes. Gas stations maxed out on supplies and some had a tanker or two to ship back to the distributor. Restaurants that had over-ordered raw foods - especially seafood - suddenly had to find some offsite freezers. And the local shirt shops may take it in the shorts with unopened cases of 2017 eclipse “T” shirts that didn’t sell.
Lincoln City Mayor Don Williams owns several small businesses in the region including a couple of fast food franchises. When asked his reaction to the no-shows, he admitted it was bad. He said he’d ordered a lot of extra food supplies and scheduled extra counter and serving help. Ever the optimist, Williams added “Guess I can go easy on the groceries next week.”
Lots of us are breathing sighs of relief that predictions of huge, unmanageable crowds were overblown. Law enforcement and other emergency personnel are relieved they weren’t called upon to deal with highway and other problems. Local hospitals didn’t get the run of burned eyeballs emergency staffs had been fearing.
Given those price increases locally, visitors were not likely to stay the night and most went back home Monday afternoon with cameras full of eclipse pictures and some bent and worn viewing glasses. They saw what they came to see on one of the most perfect coastal, blue sky days this year. Then left.
But, for locals, this eclipse business was kind of a downer. Just as the wildly inaccurate warnings of gloom and doom were overrated, so too were the prospects of many business people looking to score a “big one.” Well, maybe next time.