TWIN FALLS — It won’t be in totality, but it’s on the way.
Twin Falls will be a major passage for many of the thousands of people expected to come to Idaho for the Aug. 21 eclipse. Some estimates say anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million visitors may be driving and flying into the state.
And travel-oriented businesses will be the most affected by the extra traffic, Southern Idaho Tourism Director Melissa Barry said. Which means gas stations, restaurants and hotels are gearing up for a busy week that might be reminiscent of the 1974 Evel Knievel rocket launch over the Snake River Canyon.
“People here are definitely taking advantage that there will be more business in the area,” Barry said.
Some hotels are already full for the days leading to the eclipse. As of Aug. 4, the Fairfield Inn & Suites had a few rooms available, but restricted reservations to multiple-night stays.
“As of right now, we’re probably close to 90 percent sold out,” sales manager Jeremy Heward said.
Although the hotel is used to seeing high occupancy, it was unusual to see it that far out from an event, he said. The company had predicted about six months ahead that there would be a surge in bookings, so it raised prices. Rooms cost several hundred dollars a night.
Because of the reservation restrictions in many area hotels, Heward recommends anyone who still needs a room to call hotel managers directly to see what options are available. But expect prices to go up the longer you wait.
Convenience stores, gas stations and grocery stores are also likely to get more sales the couple of days right before and after the eclipse, Barry said. She is recommending residents stock up now to avoid the crowds.
Steve Goolsby, owner of Ziggy’s Express in Bliss and Hagerman, feared the event could be a repeat of the ’74 Evel Knievel jump — for which he had been unprepared.
“It was a crazy week,” he said. “It was intense. We had empty shelves in our store.”
On eclipse day, it will be all hands on deck at his stores. Goolsby attended an eclipse forum for businesses Aug. 2 in hopes that he wouldn’t be caught off-guard by the sheer numbers of travelers stopping at his businesses off of Interstate 84.
Oasis Stop ‘N Go, which as 24 convenience stores across the Magic Valley, expects its busiest stores will be the Traveler’s Oasis truck stop in Twin Falls, those near the Jerome exit of 1-84, and the stores in Mackay, Bellevue and Downey.
The Mackay store will extend operations to a 24-hour business for a week, Oasis Stop ‘N Go President Dan Willie said.
“I’m expecting that two-week period around the 21st to be the biggest period we’ve ever had in August,” he said in early August. “We’re telling them all to make sure they’re fully stocked on fuel and inventory.”
Besides gas, beer, pop, water and snacks are likely to be in high demand.
“It’s really hard to predict,” Willie said.
Given the high percentage of hotel bookings in Twin Falls, Hagerman, Jerome and even Mini-Cassia, it’s likely that restaurants will also be flooded with visitors.
“Don’t plan on going to a restaurant, because that’ going to be terrible,” Idaho Transportation Department spokesman Nathan Jerke said at the Aug. 2 forum.
Bill Ystueta, owner of Chick-fil-A in Twin Falls was expecting a 10 to 20 percent increase on the Friday and Saturday before the eclipse, and a 20 to 30 percent increase above normal on eclipse day.
But these estimated fluctuations aren’t more than the deviation Chick-fil-A typically has on weekends, he said.
“My plan didn’t change because of this,” Ystueta said.
Although the restaurant will be fully staffed, he has purchased eclipse glasses for his employees to safely view the partial eclipse in Twin Falls.
Another type of business in the Magic Valley has received inquiries from eastern Idaho and north of Stanley: portable toilet rentals. Jerke said agencies from that region have reserved portable toilets across the state.
But at Bear Necessities and Western Waste Services, they’ve been turned down. It’s an extensive driving distance for drop-off and maintenance, and both businesses said they were gearing up for the busy harvest season and focusing on local customers.
There may be some spillover of tourists before and after the eclipse taking advantage of the area’s outdoor recreation, Barry said. But those numbers are likely to be far fewer than what other businesses will see.
Just weeks before the event, she hadn’t heard of too many businesses preparing for the worst.
“Most people are just thinking we’re going to get by and we’re not going to see that much of an impact,” she said.