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How do you spell eclipse? For area businesses, it’s ka-ching
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Avocados Director of Operations Jim Montgomery has posters up throughout Gainesville announcing a solar eclipse viewing party downtown. Montgomery is helping coordinate the Great Solar Eclipse Tailgate and Viewing Party in the square from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, seizing on the opportunity for a unique business venture. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Great Solar Eclipse Tailgate and Viewing Party

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday

Where: Downtown Gainesville square


Monday’s solar eclipse is going to do more than thrill astronomy lovers.

The celestial event is expected to boost local economies, as well.

The eclipse is “going to happen, no matter what,” said Jim Montgomery, director of operations for Avocados restaurant in downtown Gainesville. “Why not utilize the opportunity to work a little business venture around it and offer up a place where the community could come watch it?”

Montgomery is helping coordinate the Great Solar Eclipse Tailgate and Viewing Party in the square from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The first total, cross-country solar eclipse since 1925 will streak across the South after 2 p.m. “Totality,” the period when the sun is completely covered by the moon, is expected last 155 seconds. Hall County will see an eclipse of 98-99 percent, according to Lesley Simanton-Coogan, director of the George E. Coleman Sr. Planetarium on the University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus.

A 100 percent total solar eclipse will most likely be an hour north and east of Dahlonega, in places like Helen, Blairsville and the Greenville, S.C., area.

And Tony Allred, president of the Rabun County Chamber of Commerce, couldn’t be happier.

“Everything has been booked up for months,” he said. 

But the economic impact extends beyond hotel rooms.

“We’re a hospitality destination, so the people here are kind of used to (tourists),” Allred said. “We gear up every weekend for crowds.”

Still, “there are special events going on all over the place, and many of them have been sold out for weeks and weeks.”

Tickets are sold out for the “OutASight” viewing party at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School. The Rabun County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s voicemail mailbox is full.

Rabun County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Shane Watts and representatives from the visitors bureau said all 10,000 were sold, with few sales going to local residents.

Visitors from Mexico, Scotland and Germany started buying tickets two weeks ago, even though there was not a heavy international advertising push, the bureau said.

Within the continental U.S., ticket buyers hail from California and Michigan, as well as a heavy presence from the southeastern states.

At the Dillard City Hall fairgrounds, parking is available on Monday starting at 8 a.m. for $10 per car, which is close to the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School. A pair of eclipse glasses comes with the parking.

Allred sees the eclipse as potentially more than a one-time celebration.

“We’re looking forward to introducing Rabun County to people who haven’t been here before,” he said. “A certain percentage will come back … and there’s a certain percentage that will come back to live here.”

Putting a dollar estimate on the event’s local impact is hard to do, Allred said.

“We don’t know what to expect,” he said. “We know it’s going to be busy … and everybody I know has family coming to town.”

The eclipse’s timing couldn’t be better for upstart resort hotel Valhalla in Helen.

The 25-room luxury hotel, which has a scenic view of the North Georgia mountains, opened earlier this summer and is planning a viewing party at the pool.

“It’s going to be crazy here,” General Manager Misti Anderson said. “We are full for the weekend.”

Sharon Crenshaw, Toccoa-Stephens County welcome center director, said the calls have been nonstop.

“We really don’t know what to expect Monday,” Crenshaw said.

Crenshaw said the city is hosting a “Totally Toccoa” street party from noon to 3 p.m. on Main Street downtown. She said parking is free downtown, but a nominal fee will be charged in other venues. The street party includes live music, food and a live-streaming NASA presentation at the downtown Ritz Theatre.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Crenshaw said.

While most of the crowds are expected in extreme North Georgia, Hall County will likely feel the effects, officials said.

“Rabun County is maxed out for camping and lodging, so that wave is starting to roll south, as far as (Hall) and probably beyond us,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The CVB hasn’t done an occupancy survey, but “inquiries in general about where to see (the eclipse), where to go, where to get (viewing) glasses is at an all-time high,” she said.

Regina Dyer, Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau manager, said, “This is a great thing for our surrounding communities. Gainesville is picking up some of that hype.”

“It’s very difficult to find rooms right now,” she said.

Even if people don’t stay in Hall, many eclipse chasers will travel through Hall to get to the totality region. And that means a lot of dollars dropped on restaurants and other places.

“People will be filling up the cars with gas,” Dyer said. “Once you get past us, it’s few and far between.”

Even though it’s not holding a viewing event, already popular Jaemor Farms in Lula hopes to cash in on stargazers stopping for a little produce.

The business off Ga. 365 “will be open and ready for all of the eclipse chasers headed north,” said Caroline B. Lewallen of Jaemor.

State parks also are getting booked.

Don Carter State Park in Hall “may have just one or two campsites left, but Tallulah and Black Rock (Mountain State Park in Mountain City) have been booked for a year or more,” state parks spokeswoman Kim Hatcher said.

Asked about whether lodge rooms and cabins are booked, as well, Hatcher said, “Yes, everything.”

News reporters Nick Watson and Carlos Galarza contributed to this report.