Commerce

South Carolina’s Eclipse Commerce Haul

“For us, this is basically like Christmas will come twice in 2017 with how busy it’s been all week.”

So spoke Rosie Dixon, the eponymous Rosie behind Rosie’s Gifts near Greenville, South Carolina. Summer, she said, isn’t her shop’s busiest season most years. Fall is usually a strong performer, when the two universities come back into session. And, of course, there is the holiday rush.

Summer, on the other hand, is usually pretty quiet in Greenville, with maybe a vacationer here and there.

A different local business owner told us the normal in the area is by and large to be shut down for the summer.

“That feeling that you’re tryin’ to breath the air in an oven? Yeah that’s ‘bout standard this time of year — normally takes a bite out of visiting season. My Momma won’t visit me in August — and she’s born here and I have her grandkids.”

That was the owner of a local tire and car repair shop.  If you were assuming a solar eclipse wouldn’t quite be the boon to his business that it is was for Rosie Dixon, you would actually be quite mistaken.

“I’ve been changing out tires, putting whole new sets on people’s cars since ‘bout Monday when the tourists started rolling in. It’s like — I don’t know — bunch of New Yorkers go in their car and decided they need to get here fast as possible without checking anything about how their car was running first. I have changed a lot of just filthy oil this week. Lot of these folks are lucky they seein’ the eclipse today instead of being stuck on the side of the road.”

That’s pretty much what we heard from the residents of Greenville, particularly the merchants, who were more than amused over the lack of preparation among the droves of people who rushed into their small South Carolina town to see the first coast-to-coast U.S. eclipse in almost 100 years. The biggest — and hardest-to-get item of the week — was exactly what you would expect: those coveted solar sunglasses.

“We’ve been out for a week,” the local Walmart’s manager (who requested we leave him unnamed) noted, before telling us that simply being out, and even putting up a sign displayed in the front of the store has done little — to nothing — to dissuade people from asking, usually a few hundred times a day.

Walmart was not the only store with that experience. Locally, the 7-Eleven, Target, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, all local supermarkets, Walgreens and CVS were all tapped out. In fact, the only store in town that still reported having any supply of eclipse glasses to call their own as of Saturday was the local “adult bookstore.”

The desk clerk, who requested we not use his name because “my mom definitely does not know I work here,” noted that they bought the eclipse glasses in bulk a little over a month ago, thinking that it would be funny to run a promotion for eclipse-themed pornography with the glasses included as a “free gift.”

“Oh, eclipse porn is very, very real. It has been a huge seller all week, mostly I think bought as joke gifts by tourists who came in to just buy the eclipse glasses, which we just started selling by themselves on Tuesday. Felt bad on Saturday to tell people no we don’t have any glasses, but we have some lovely adult films and books to browse. No one did, by the way.”

Which isn’t to say there were no solar eclipse glasses to be had in rural South Carolina yesterday — you just had to find the right street vendor to ask — and probably have cash on hand.

Aisha and Remir — married street vendors who split their eclipse day divided between Greenville and Columbia, South Carolina selling their wares — had certified solar eclipse glasses on hand for anyone willing to pay the $30-a-piece asking price.

“Better than buying on Amazon. I think they was $85 a piece. And we are not making anyone pay us anything. If you want to put your head in a cardboard box to see the shadow of the eclipse and save $30, be our guest.”

When we talked to Aisha at 8:45 this morning in Greenville nears Falls Park, her supply of solar glasses was nearly exhausted. She said her husband over in Columbia has been sold out since 7:00 yesterday morning — after running into a very enthusiastic group of German tourists who bought out his inventory in under nine minutes.

A good day in street vending?

Yes, she said, but like all “good days” in her line of work, it does come with a bit of a bitter side: all the cash she has to carry around, which does make her worry about being robbed. We asked her if she ever considered purchasing something like Square to cut back on all that cash. She demurred, explaining that she likes cash, understands cash — and that she’d rather face the risk than figure out credit cards for a street cart.

[We promise to work on that.]

But, we noted, her attitude was not quite a universal attitude among the vendors working the park scene. “Beau” was also hard at work, and though he had no exotic eyewear to offer, he did have a plethora of fidget spinners on hand as well as a variety of glowing, blinking, beeping toys that were tangentially connected to astronomy.

“Hey, man, the eclipse spans two hours. You brought your kids here at 8:00AM. You need to start entertaining them ‘til the sun does its job.”

We couldn’t help but agree when we found ourselves buying various strands of glowing, blinking necklaces to keep our children calm, at which point we were pleased to find Beau did take cards.

“Man, you got to. You got to. People don’t have cash, or not very much anymore.  You want to make the money on a day like today, you have to be representing cards. That’s just it; no one is going to find an ATM for you unless you gouging them on the fancy sunglasses.”

Beau then gestured at Aisha, noting that he didn’t like her price, but he wished it had occurred to him to order solar eclipse glasses in bulk earlier this summer.

Still, he said, he could not complain. With the million or so estimated visitors to Greenville (estimates for South Carolina in general ranged from an additional five million visitors coming to the state to see the eclipse to as many as 10 million), he certainly sold a lot of spinning, beeping and blinking toys.

When we asked what he was going to do with all his eclipse lucre, he smiled.

“Probably wait a few days for all these tourists to leave, maybe get a drink. Can’t go anywhere now, can’t get a spot in a restaurant. Too many darn tourists everywhere taking pictures of their dinner.”

During the five-hour traffic jam we, the PYMNTS crew, sat in while we tried to flee South Carolina, we strongly suspected that Beau and Co. would do a bit better finding some free spots to spend their fruits of their hard-earned eclipse success.

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