Home General News Dark side of the moon: Eclipse left Franklin’s small businesses disappointed

Dark side of the moon: Eclipse left Franklin’s small businesses disappointed


Dark side of the moon: Eclipse left Franklin’s small businesses disappointed

    Braidinn Plymate, operations manager of the Local Grind, says the Franklin coffee shop lost thousands of dollars when expected eclipse customers failed to show.

    FRANKLIN, Indiana—Eclipse visitors have long since left, giving business owners and employees time to reflect on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, for some, disappointing sales.

    Franklin officials, previous eclipse data, and news reports anticipated crowds of 100,000 to 300,000 people descending on the small city. This led some businesses to prepare a lot of stock for the crowds, which they say never came.

    Franklin wasn’t the only city preparing for what business owners are calling overinflated crowds. Indianapolis expected 200,000 to 250,000 and got 125,000, Bloomington officials estimated 100,000 to 300,000 and got tens of thousands.

    Christina Fletcher, the owner of Possibilities, a food, furniture and gift store in downtown Franklin.  Photo by Arianna Hunt, TheStatehouseFile.com.

    “I know several [small businesses] that are in a pinch or they’re sitting on perishable products,” said Christina Fletcher, the owner of Possibilities, a food, furniture and gift store in downtown Franklin. “I’ve heard of restaurants having to go out and buy freezers and put them at their house even so they can at least try and save some of the stock. And I’m talking like thousands of dollars worth of food.”

    Fletcher says she and other shop owners were told to buy so much, she almost took out a loan.

    “We were really encouraged to bring in lots of inventory and stock so that we could have stuff for these people,” said Fletcher. “I almost borrowed money, and I’m glad I didn’t. … I’d be in big trouble if I borrowed money.”

    Businesses with perishable products had the most to lose. Braidinn Plymate, operations manager at the Local Grind, says the coffee shop had to throw away lots of food in the days following the eclipse.

    “It’s thousands of dollars in loss, it’s not a pretty sight. It’s thousands upon thousands of dollars of loss,” said Plymate. “Some of these business owners in downtown, and not just this downtown but in other downtowns, took out loans to be able to afford all of this merchandise they were told to buy to anticipate the crowd.”

    Because of what he called inflated crowd estimates, Plymate said he and other community members estimated months of sales in days.

    “We definitely way overprepared. We were told to expect about give or take a quarter of sales in three days, and we definitely did not even get near that,” said Plymate.

    The Local Grind based its preparations on community business meetings, talks among businesses, and the news.

    “We spent thousands of dollars in products in not only food but drinks. Just for this weekend, we bought 75 gallons of milk,” said Plymate.

    The expectations of the eclipse even delayed expanding their business.

    “Let me put it like this, we delayed opening our third store by three months for this eclipse, for what? I gave up almost 10 food-truck events this weekend, for what? For what?” he said.

    Tracy Bohler laughs in the main room of her shop, Farm Girl Mercantile,  a boutique and antique and home decor shop.  

    Tracy Bohler, owner of Farm Girl Mercantile, a boutique and antique and home decor store in Franklin, agreed that the number of visitors was not what she and other business owners were expecting.

    “I think we were told around 100,000 to be here in Franklin, and it was nowhere near that at all. I mean, I haven’t actually seen numbers yet, but maybe 3,000 at the most,” she said. “It was like a ghost town at various points. Each day, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, even into early Monday, was kind of just, like, where is everybody?”

    Bohler believes the publicity around the eclipse scared people away from coming and it would have been a busier weekend without the eclipse.

    “I felt like it was slower than a normal Saturday,” said Bohler. “I think the sun was shining most of the weekend. I mean, we should have had pretty good sales that day without an eclipse or without an event.”

    That was also true for Norma Jean’s Pastries, whose owner, Whitney Atkerson, said she sold less than she would have for an average weekend.

    Not every store is overstocked. Shops like T-shirt Express benefited from their make-on-demand model.

    Kristin Gent holds up an eclipse t-shirt design at Express T-shirts in Franklin.  

    “We were really lucky,” said employee Kristin Gent. “We have the press and we have the design on transfers, so we didn’t have to make all of them ahead of time. We could make them as people came in, and it took like five seconds.”

    Gent said that although the crowd estimates were unbelievably big, they were reasonable because they were based on previous data from eclipses.

    “I couldn’t even imagine them being here, like I couldn’t imagine it in actuality, walking through crowds of that many people, which just led to me being worried,” Gent said. “But really, I just trusted the numbers, and I was like, OK, I guess they’re coming whether I can imagine it or not.”

    Many business owners believe the hype surrounding the eclipse kept many of their regulars or local shoppers at home instead of in the downtown area.

    Some Franklin officials advised residents to treat the eclipse like a snowstorm: to stock up on medications and have a full tank of gas. Gov. Eric J. Holcomb even declared a state of emergency ahead of the eclipse.

    “I think one of the biggest letdowns was obviously the crowds not being as heavy as we thought, but I felt that our locals, our regulars, heeded the warning to stay home, stay off the roads, and by doing that, obviously, they didn’t come out,” said Larry Hughes, owner of Grill Bar in downtown Franklin.

    “I think that hindsight being 20/20, we could have handled our regulars, our locals and the traveling in. And I think we would have been alright, but we didn’t know that at the time, and we were listening to the officials and what they were recommending.”

    Larger-than-life eclipse glasses located in the Franklin visitors’ center. Was the April 8 event overhyped? Some tourism officials and small business owners hold differing opinions.

    With all of the numbers floating around, Festival Country, Franklin’s tourism initiative, previously stated that it was expecting 100,000 people in Johnson County, which includes other cities like Greenwood and the greater Indianapolis area, not just Franklin.

    One thing that led people to believe that there would be huge crowds was the sold-out hotels in the county. According to Ken Kosky, the executive director of tourism for Festival Country, there are on average 250 hotel rooms open on a given weekend in all of Johnson County, which means only an estimated 750 extra people.

    Although official numbers aren’t available yet, Kosky said he believes the eclipse gathering stacked up to be a mid-sized festival for Franklin. “We won’t know until we get the data, but I think it fell somewhere in the middle from my experience,” he said.

    To prevent chaos with traffic and parking, Festival Country helped support over 50 sites across the county to celebrate the eclipse. “I think the misnomer is that, OK, this one venue, the Franklin amphitheater, didn’t have as many people as on the fireworks night, but that’s because people had 50 choices across the county,” said Kosky.

    “Me and the planners felt it was best to overplan and have more than we needed available just so that if there was a bigger crowd, we could accommodate them in style,” said Kosky.

    Kosky believes Festival Country reached its goal of providing a welcoming environment, and when the eclipse finished, traffic was fine because of the spread of people. “So, I would call it a big success,” he said.

    Other tourism officials in places like Vincennes, which expected 50,000-75,000 people and got 30,000-35,000 in the county, also believe the eclipse was a success. “It was just the right amount without being overwhelmed by the visitors. It was really a wonderful day,” said Sarah Wolfe, eclipse director of Knox County.

    Kosky acknowledged the negative sentiments around the eclipse and the different sources telling people to stay home. But he says that was never the message of Festival Country, which felt the town could accommodate any number of people that came.

    He agreed with businesses that said the negative messaging kept locals away.

    Leftover eclipse merch from the April 8 total solar eclipse. Some local small businesses say the event was overhyped, leading to lost revenue and wasted inventory.

    “I think if the local residents came out en masse like they did for the evening of fireworks and came side by side with the thousands of visitors, I think that pretty much every store would have probably sold out,” said Kosky. “I don’t think that the visitor count was super low; I just think that the local residents kind of backed out of coming down like they usually would.”

    Even with disappointing sales, many business owners found joy in the eclipse, and although many locals stayed home, there was an influx of out-of-state and out-of-country visitors that shed more light on the community.

    “We saw people from all over the world,” said Fletcher. “So, I mean it was great that way. We got more people exposed to our town. We saw people from Chicago, Wisconsin, Louisville. Like come down for a weekend, we’re a good weekend trip. So, I think it will help us for exposure to get people to come back.”

    FOOTNOTE: Arianna Hunt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.