If Columbia is deluged with visitors, it will be Sunday and not Saturday.
It was pretty much business as usual in the capital city two days before Monday’s total eclipse, which is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of guests to the city. It was perhaps even a little slower than a normal summer weekend, as locals seemed to stay home from the Vista and Harbison areas for fear of gridlock.
“The flood is not today,” David Erbacker, director of sales for the Hyatt Place in the Vista, said Saturday. “The flood is Sunday. Sunday, they will be here in droves.”
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Erbacker, who is also president of the Vista Guild, said the high cost of hotel rooms has people coming in the day before the eclipse, and leaving the day after.
“Good-luck-on-the-interstates day is Monday and Tuesday,” he said.
He said rooms at the Hyatt were $400 Saturday, and they were at 75 percent occupancy. They jumped to $629 on Sunday, and the hotel is sold out.
One person who ducked the high prices was Jason Siegel, a native New Yorker who lives in Cary, N.C.
Siegel, who arrived Saturday afternoon with his wife, Kate, sister, Sara, and daughter, Jacqueline, booked a room at the Hilton in the Vista in April. It was $140.
“It’s kind of crazy to me that they didn’t charge more,” he said. “The last six weeks is when you’ve seen the rates jump up.
Seigel said they decided to stay the weekend and were going to go the EdVenture Children’s Museum, the Southern Lights laser exhibit and other attractions.
“We’ve never been to Columbia before,” he said. “So we came a little early and just want to explore.”
That’s music to the ears of Merritt McNeely, founder and chairwoman of the Total Eclipse Weekend Columbia SC organization.
“That’s exactly why we planned this,” she said. “We called it Total Eclipse Weekend for a reason. We wanted people to come early and enjoy our attractions. And that’s why we wanted our attractions to plan events for Saturday and Sunday as well as Monday.”
McNeely is also marketing director for the S.C. State Museum – one of the few places where business was brisk Saturday.
McNeely said the museum had twice as many visitors in the first three hours Saturday as it would on a normal Saturday in August. At least half of those visitors came in from out of state, she said.
Many were people who avoided the high hotel prices by staying with family and friends, like Albert Williams of Johnson City, N.Y. Williams drove down with his wife, Alicia, to visit their two daughters in Greensboro, N.C. Williams then drove to Columbia to view the eclipse, staying at his brother Lloyd’s house in Lexington.
“My wife was OK staying in Greensboro because we didn’t know what the crowds were going to be like, and they’re getting a 93 percent eclipse,” Williams said. “But I wanted total.”
The museum is selling $15 total access wristbands ($5 for members) that allows them to see all of the shows and attractions. The wristbands come with a pair of certified eclipse glasses.
The museum’s planetarium has a special show called “Shadows from Space” that offers a 360-degree real-time simulation of the eclipse over Columbia. The museum also is selling special eclipse posters and hats and has an exhibit of items from Brig. Gen. Charles Duke, a Lancaster native who walked on the moon.
Duke and Gov. Henry McMaster are scheduled to speak to schoolchildren at 12:15 p.m. Monday. Duke is scheduled to address the crowd gathered for the eclipse.
Four thousand people are expected to watch the eclipse outside the museum, and the view from the museum’s telescope will be livestreamed on S.C. ETV and PBS stations around the country – including a football stadium scoreboard in Topeka, Kansas.
“We have 7,000 bottles of water available,” McNeely said. “We have people coming in from out of state and out of the country, and we’re banking on the fact they don’t know what the heat index is going to be.”
The museum might be your best bet for finding certified glasses.
Many in the crowd at Main Street’s Soda City Market on Saturday were hoping to land a pair or needed to replace a pair of glasses they feared didn’t meet the required standards. It wasn’t an easy hunt.
Meagan and Aaron Vannucci of Columbia said they received their glasses from a local restaurant a week ago, but have since learned the glasses might be unreliable.
“There was a post on their Facebook page that said ‘Oops, it was a mistake,’ ” Aaron Vannucci said. “So now we’re scrambling.”
Jeremy Becraft, general manager of Mast General Store on Main Street, said the crowd at Soda City Market was normal for a busy Saturday, but they expected business to be heavier later in the day.
Becraft said the store sold out of its stock of 3,100 eclipse glasses on Thursday, but is still getting about a thousand calls a day from people looking for glasses.
“And we’re selling eclipse T-shirts like crazy,” he said.
Mast is selling glasses for $1.99 a pair, but Becraft has heard of some selling for as much as $15 a pair.
“A lot of people thought plenty of glasses would be passed out for free, and now they’re scrambling,” Becraft said. “It’s kind of like the day before Christmas.”
His store is selling the glasses for $1.99 because, “We just wanted people to enjoy the experience.”
Bristow Marchant contributed to this report