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Preparing Your Main Street for the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse


July 20, 2023 | Preparing Your Main Street for the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse | By: Meghan Cole, Executive Director, Carbondale Main Street

From left to right: Carbondale Main Street volunteers assist visitors, crowds enjoy an evening concert during Carbondale ShadowFest, and Carbondale-branded eclipse glasses.

Photos courtesy of Carbondale Main Street.

Carbondale, Ill., was the point of longest duration for the 2017 total solar eclipse. For almost three minutes, our town was wrapped in total darkness in the middle of a late-summer day. Those three minutes attracted an estimated 30,000 visitors from all over the world to our town of just over 20,000, with hotels booked with a three-day minimum. We played host to scientists, professors, and curiosity-seekers from around the world – including a visit and live broadcast from NASA.  
Carbondale is not only unique in that we were the point of longest duration in the last eclipse. As luck would have it, we are once again the path of totality of the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse as well. (To see if your community is in the path of totality, click here.)
Because our team at Carbondale Main Street now knows the impact a cosmic event like this can have on a city, we are already well underway in planning for next year. Through our experience in 2017 and in planning for the next one, I’m sharing some words of wisdom with others who fall within the path of totality. My goal is to help you think about what you can do to educate and elevate your Main Street and your community as a whole as you prepare for this opportunity. Let it be a sunny day! 

1. Invite curiosity 

If you are located in the path of totality for the 2024 eclipse, I can promise you one thing: People will come. In addition to making the most of the event by creating new revenue streams like merchandise sales, parking spots, and more, take the time to think through and plan for how you can use this once-in-a-lifetime (or for Carbondale, twice in seven years!) opportunity to encourage residents and visitors to learn more about the extraordinary occasion.  
Encourage partnerships with schools, libraries, and other local organizations and institutions that can help connect residents and visitors to the fascinating event at hand by creating opportunities for learning and discovery. Local school districts in our area implemented learning initiatives utilizing resource guides from the Adler Planetarium and Startlab. A local school district, Murphysboro, partnered with another regional district, Trico, for a teaching partnership using NASA resources. The same educators who launched that partnership are working on a new asset in advance of next year’s eclipse, cultivating a list of educational solar eclipse resources for teachers and other educators across Southern Illinois. 

2. Plan for the crowds 

Not every community in the path of totality for the 2024 eclipse will have 30,000 visitors, but most can expect to have many, many more attendees than you see at typical events. Even if you aren’t near the point of longest duration and don’t have NASA visiting your town, it’s important to plan like it’s your biggest event of the year (and then some). Make the most of the opportunity by creating special branding, hosting large-scale events, and selling merchandise (have ANYTHING that says “Eclipse” on them... people will buy them!). 
Along with the City of Carbondale, Carbondale Main Street hosted a three-day festival called Carbondale ShadowFest, which included different live music showcases: an 80s rewind, a tribute night, and a homegrown stage with popular local musicians. The concert series was sponsored by several local organizations, creating free entertainment for residents and visitors alike. 

3. Prepare your residents 

To prepare your residents and small business owners, create a strong communications and education plan to prepare them for the big event.  

For business owners, host meetings and forums and create educational marketing content to offer tips on how to prepare. For example, let restaurants know to order extra supplies that week, and encourage shops to expand their regular hours. 
Communicate with and educate your residents, too. There’s no need for scare tactics, but 
do let locals know what to anticipate and the best ways to adapt to the crowds. For example, let residents know to buy groceries ahead of time and plan for less parking and increased traffic. Drum up excitement among residents about the events and promotions you’re planning for the big day. Encourage participation ahead of time by inviting people to sign up as volunteers or register for events. 

4. Leverage existing partnerships, lean into new ones 

If you are in the path of totality for the total solar eclipse in 2024, know that thousands of people from around the globe will soon come to experience the awe in your home community. Use the opportunity to create new relationships and partnerships that you can continue to cultivate and grow long after the event. 
Your partnerships matter. And if any time is a time to galvanize your community, it’s when faced with an exciting opportunity like this. In 2017, some of the most important connections we had that made our events a success were local volunteers greeting people, the local Keep America affiliate picking up trash, and the Police Department playing kickball with kids during a concert. In addition to our existing connections, we also created new partnerships with regional astronomy clubs, staff from Southern Illinois University, and school districts from across southern Illinois.  
For more on the reaction to the 2017 eclipse in Carbondale, check out this great coverage from Live Science