MITCHELL — Up to 50,000 people were expected to overwhelm one of Oregon’s tiniest towns for the total solar eclipse, filling hotels, buying gas and eating at restaurants. But only about 2,000 showed up. The townspeople couldn’t have been happier.
Mitchell, a Wheeler County town with 150 people, was eager for the economic boost. But city officials feared a flood of tourists could clog the streets, start fires and be unmanageable. Not so. The tourists came in smaller numbers, spent money and were well-behaved.
A line of idling cars waiting to get into the gas station was at times backed up for blocks. Tourists from around the globe shuffled out of Wheeler County Trading & More with 20-pound bags of ice and groceries. They packed restaurants and bought eclipse-themed goods from sidewalk vendors.
“I think it’s a prosperity thing for all of the businesses; they needed that,” said Mayor Vernita Jordan, 74. “Winter is very slim for them. If they can get a boost now, that’s going to mean they can survive through the winter, maybe.”
While the tourists were all about the eclipse, the locals saw it as an economic opportunity rather than a celestial one.
Jalet Farrell, who owns Spoke’n Hostel Lodging & Praise Assembly with her husband, Patrick Farrell, said most residents didn’t care much about the actual event.
“There was a lot of, ‘It gets dark every night,’” she said.
During the eclipse, many residents looked out the door or went to the street to check it out. Jalet Farrell reported hearing some cheers through town. But the eclipse viewing was secondary to the real mission, she said. The townspeople were hosts first.
“We just had to get this service out there for these people because it’s our one shot not to disappoint,” she said.
“Thank god it wasn’t 8,000,” Karen Osborn, co-owner of Wheeler County Trading, said about one visitor projection. Osborn, along with most business owners in town, said the eclipse crowd was better than expected in that it provided an economic boon without catastrophe. Even though the crowds were far smaller than expected, traffic was still backing up and Jordan was worried about pedestrians’ safety. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”
Several business owners reported they were running out of supplies. One business that was booming is Tiger Town Brewing Co., which hustled to open up in time for the event.
The brewery sold out of its own beer Friday night — a watermelon wheat ale — but purchased 26 kegs and a couple thousand pounds of chicken wings to keep the locals and tourists happy. Brewery staff hustled from open to close, slinging pints and frying wings. By Sunday afternoon 13 kegs had been emptied.
Business owners hope the eclipse isn’t a one-hit wonder. The goal is to show outsiders what Mitchell has to offer — a quiet, scenic town where a simpler kind of life is easily found.
And while they want the eclipse viewers to return, it would be nice if they didn’t all come at once.
“We will all be glad when it’s over,” Jordan said with a chuckle.
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, firstname.lastname@example.org