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Event focuses on challenges, benefits August solar eclipse presents to Prineville business owners

Much has been made of the solar eclipse that will pass over Crook County in late August.

Residents have been told to expect hundreds of thousands of people to flood the Central Oregon area from locations all over the United States and the world.

Emergency management personnel have been meeting for several months to determine how to deal with the sudden surge in people and the emergencies it might provoke. Much of that focus has been on how to handle such problems as wildfires, medical problems and other safety issues.

Last week, the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce held a meeting with a different focus. While the session, which invited more than 20 local business owners, focused on health and safety concerns, it also examined how businesses can prepare for influx of tourists and benefit from their presence in the community.

"The first objective is to communicate to the best of our knowledge what you can expect, or assume to expect, from this eclipse event," said Chamber Director Casey Kaiser. "The second (objective) is really to encourage you to consider planning and preparing for some of the impacts that this could have on your business. The third and final (objective) is to encourage you to do everything you can to maximize the economic opportunity that all of these people coming to the area represent for us. It is important that we take as much benefit from the experience as we can, too."

Guest speakers during the meeting included Vicky Ryan, emergency preparedness coordinator for Crook County Health Department, Crook County Emergency Manager Michael Ryan, and Joe Krenowicz, director of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

Vicky Ryan tried to emphasize the positive impact the eclipse can have on the community and its business owners, saying it is "an opportunity to be a really great event and experience." She pointed out to the business owners that they play an important role in that, whether it is providing information to emergency management personnel from their unique perspective or finding ways to provide visitors what they need or want.

"You might think of things depending on the type of business you are running," Ryan said. "You may consider things you don't normally have on hand for your businesses. We are going to be inundated with tourists."

Krenowicz, who is already offering similar eclipse-related meetings in Madras, stressed that businesses will need to make sure they have enough water available for sale. He noted that the event will take place during one of the hottest times of the summer and water will be in high demand.

He added that businesses need to prepare for a change to their typical business situation. For example, because of the anticipated increase in traffic, he is recommending that companies reach out to state freight industries and encourage truck drivers to alter delivery schedules during the week of the eclipse.

"Make sure you have your manual credit card slips," he added as another example. "If you take credit cards and your (internet is) down, there is no other alternative."

In addition, both Krenowicz and Ryan told business owners to keep extra gasoline available and complete supply or grocery shopping a couple weeks before the eclipse will take place.

"You can expect anything from long fuel lines to increased prices in fuel and food," Ryan said. However, turning the potential challenge into a benefit, she went on to tell business owners "you may want to consider adjusting your pricing to accommodate a higher overhead operating cost."

Kaiser suggested business owners consider sprucing up their storefronts and adding signage to explain to tourists where products, restrooms and parking are located.

The chamber meeting is only the first of several planned for the weeks leading up to the Aug. 21 eclipse, Kaiser said.

"As long as we all are aware of the challenges we are faced with, I think we can alleviate a lot of stress," Ryan said.

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