The day after the Total Eclipse August 22, 2017
I’m really tired today and my voice is raw but I wanted to share my thoughts about the weekend as I know there will be discussions about the planning and information shared in preparation for the event.
My primary concerns coming into the event were 1) to make sure the local community knew well in advance to prepare themselves for potential crowds at grocery stores and gas stations and to get eclipse glasses and 2) that as a region, we were well enough prepared so that visitors had a really memorable experience in Baker County and would consider visiting us again.
I am a planner and I never like to be caught short or to not meet our customer expectations. I brought in thousands of dollars of beer, wine and foods (like gourmet frozen vegan, GF, and steak burritos and ice cream bars and pre-sliced charcuterie packs) that we don’t normally carry because I wanted to be able to offer alternatives if grocery stores or restaurants ran short.
I ordered an extra 50 # of coffee beans, cases of milk and 1000 additional coffee cups and lids. We were prepared for whatever came our way.
I was nervous on Friday and Saturday. I was disappointed because we were so prepared and excited and overstaffed but we knew they were still coming. I figured that locals and travelers alike had heard all of the news around the northwest about potential crowds and traffic jams and had seen video of Redmond, OR and had decided to get their camps together or check into their lodging and stay put.
I was also thrilled that the weather forecast kept looking perfect and that the people who did come into the store wanted information about things to see and do. They ALL commented on the lack of traffic and the news they’d heard from Vancouver, BC, Colorado, San Diego, Portugal, Germany, France and Kentucky. Everyone who came into the store commented on what they’d been hearing for weeks, not from our area, or even Oregon but from their home towns and national news. I’ve never heard so many people make Y2K jokes – not even after Y2K. I think it must be the nature of the way ‘news’ works these days – everything gets hyped up to such an extreme measure. I am quite sure we all agree on some level about that.
My family and house guests joined the crowd at Lefty’s that night for the Channel Cats, pizza and good drinks. The place was packed, both floors, and I got to dance with my crew and my brother and Brian Vegter who came in after finishing up the We Like Em Short Film Festival. He was on Cloud 9 about the turnout of the event and is always a blast to dance with – that was just another bonus for my weekend.
Sunday, my panic got a little more real. I let one employee go home early but kept 3 on staff. We got busy-ish after 11 (which is normal for any given Sunday here) and then were slammed by 2 o’clock. Slammed in the best possible sense of the word. Tons of people. Families, travelers from everywhere (huge amounts from Seattle Sound and BC) and they shopped, tasted wine, talked about waiting in line to get treats at Sweet Wife Baking and asked for things to do and see. Sales were good, a better than average Sunday but not spectacular. We stayed open until 7pm with lots of very happy people in and out of the store.
I met with my staff and we talked about the fact that it was good that we’d been well prepared and that our visitors were so incredibly interesting and gracious. Our goal of having a weekend that would help fill the economic hole that the hard winter created was shattered but we were happy doing what we do well and really enjoying it.
Our visitors commented about how incredibly friendly and welcoming everything had been as they’d arrived. It was awesome. At 6 pm, a crazily famous winemaker called from Seattle and asked about the weather. I invited him to join my already busting at the seams house and he arrived shortly after midnight. It was a lovely surprise, and following a stressful couple of days, I thought his visit would be a grand distraction and that it would ease the stress of the staff (after all, he really is famous and they all love his wines).
Monday- wow. We opened 2 hours early at 6 am and the first customer, from Arizona, snuck out of his motel to come down and purchase a set of cookware for his anniversary gift. They’d been in the day before and the pans had caught her eye. We wrapped it up and loaded the gigantic box into his car and wished him a happy anniversary. We met so many people celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and one couple on their honeymoon. It was a fabulously busy morning. One family rushed in at 9:30 (as we were preparing to close until 11) looking for something vegan for breakfast…. thank goodness I brought in those vegan burritos!
The winemaker, my staff and I went up on the roof. We raised glasses of champagne and watched in amazement. Everyone will remember this day. It was phenomenal on so many levels and so much more so than any of us had anticipated. I still get goosebumps. I expect that will last for a while.
We reopened the store, got the winemaker on the road to Walla Walla and spent the rest of the day reveling in the joy every person who came into the store shared with us. An entire day where people were smiling. Not sure when that might happen again. It lasted all day long, until 7 pm when we finally thanked the last customer and locked up the store.
At one point I turned around and saw a woman who was a good friend and neighbor of mine in Portland in the mid-80’s. She owns a restaurant and as we are both self employed, we usually only see each other at rare trade events. She’d been in Halfway for the eclipse and hit a pothole outside of Richland and broke the ball joint in her car. Not a good event ever, but she was thrilled to find a tow truck to bring her into Baker City as well as a great mechanic (shout out to Dusty and Precision Import!) who assured her he could get the part Tuesday morning and have her back on the road in 24 hours. As it was Monday, she was also able to get a room at the Knights Inn!
She joined my family (from Seattle) for dinner at El Erradero (which was busier than I have ever seen it) and we all recounted our eclipse stories. Tuesday morning, she came in for coffee and though we still had good traffic in the store, the staff was handling it and my friend and I headed to The Lone Pine. The wait for tables and food was longer than I’ve ever seen there but the staff was smiling and gracious and the food was, as always, delicious and impressive. My restaurateur friend kept glancing around and joked that it’s hard to be in such a busy place and not jump up and help. I was so impressed at the way they handled the waiting crowd and at the calm ‘Baker City way’ they maintained with each table.
Looking back while still this close, I can say that I’m glad I over prepared. I’m even happier that the people who came to Baker County seemed to have a truly magical time here. Not only with a once in a lifetime eclipse that was blessed with perfect weather but that the amenities and businesses and attractions of our county enchanted them. Many will visit us again. That in itself seems like the greatest success.
It is difficult to plan for something that will only happen once. My comment to people on Monday afternoon was that the Total Eclipse was my new favorite Baker event and that I wanted to do it again. The people were so interesting that chose to come to our county. As busy as I was with work, I was able to participate in some of the extra entertainment scheduled for the weekend and visit 3 restaurants. My house guests visited even more as I was NOT the hostess that I like to be and didn’t cook a thing the entire weekend! Yes, I was a bit disappointed that BELLA didn’t do Christmas season numbers in August but we made new friends, some of them journalists (it will always thrill me when I meet a journalist who is amazed and loving everything about Baker County!) and I know we’ll see many of them here again.
I’m proud that as a community we were prepared for potential issues and that no gigantic problems arose and no tragedy rocked our towns. There were a few incidents, but with the number of travelers on the roads we can all feel very fortunate about the outcome. I will always remember this as one of the happiest days I have ever seen in Baker City.
I hope you will as well.