By Barney Blakeney
By some estimates, about 1 million people were expected to arrive in the Charleston area to view the August 21 total solar eclipse. That should have translated into tens of millions of dollars injected into the local economy. We asked how that influx of solar dollars impacted local Black businesses.
Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office Director Theron Snype said very little economic data has been collected from last week’s event, but he doubts a million people came to the area. However, projections were that those who came would generate between $15 million-$20 million in spending. According to one news source, local tourism venues saw about three times as many visitors during the event that brought people to the Lowcountry as early as last Thursday. However, very little of that translated into dollars for Black businesses, Snype said.
The bottom-line is only a skeletal Black business infrastructure exists to take advantage of such economic windfalls. Without any hard data, Snype said it’s difficult to gauge how Black businesses fared during the solar event. Local bed and breakfasts enjoyed about 90 percent occupancy, he estimated, but few of those are operated by Black homeowners.
Black owned restaurants represent a significant number of local Black businesses. Snype said he’s unsure whether most of them, which are obscured off the beaten paths to most tourism destinations, received much of the food and beverage spending that came with the eclipse. He noted while a lot of Blacks are employed in the food and beverage industry, few are business owners.
The city has several Black owned tour guide services, but motorized and horse-drawn tours were prohibited during the eclipse event. One tour guide speculated that Blacks in the transportation business likely saw an uptick in their businesses as a result. Vendors at the city market also probably saw increases in business. The big money went to hotels and restaurants, she said, and that’s where Black business ownership almost is non-existent.
Perrin Lawson, vice president of business development and deputy director for the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said the bureau is collecting hotel occupancy data that should be available later this week.