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Through a Glass, Darkly: Convenience Stores Expect Eclipse to Be a Bright Opportunity

Retailers in the path of the solar phenomenon are braced for tourism traffic, c-store sales
buc-ee's eclipse glasses
Photograph courtesy of Houston Museum of Natural Science

Don’t look now, but convenience stores in the path of the April 8 total solar eclipse are bracing for increased traffic—and increased sales—as they expect the astronomical event to attract tourists and curiosity seekers to flock to the towns and routes that will offer the best views. The sun and moon dance will create a swath of darkness across the country from Texas through the Midwest to Cleveland and the Northeast providing for the most optimal viewing in North America.

Although it will last less than 5 minutes, it will affect 15 states.

An estimated 44 million people live inside the 115-mile-wide path of totality stretching from Mazatlán, Mexico, to Newfoundland, and about 32 million of them are in the United States, according to an Associated Press report (see NASA map below). Add to that the crowds expecting to flock to the areas to watch it, and it amounts to a major event and opportunity.

With an eclipse in 2017, some states in the Northwest saw large increases in their weekly retail gasoline price averages, according to GasBuddy. And c-stores got their moment in the sun.

For the April 8 eclipse, several retailers are getting ready or throwing shade(s).

Jordan’s Travel Centers. Portia, Arkansas-based Jordan’s Travel Centers told KAIT that it has been preparing for April 8 for months. The company expects thousands, if not millions, to walk through its stores across the area on both the days surrounding and the day of the eclipse.

Stores are ordering items they might run out of, such as sodas, snacks and more.

“We’ll also order extra on our deli trucks so there is plenty of food for people who are hungry to grab a snack while they’re waiting and watching,” Portia Jordan’s Travel Center Manager Whitney Gray told the news outlet.

One of the worries some people have in northeastern Arkansas is that the area might run out of fuel, but Gray said that shouldn’t be an issue for Jordan’s stations. “Jordan’s fuel trucks run constantly, so we always have large amounts of fuel in our tanks. They’re here almost daily making sure we’re full and ready to go,” Gray said.

Gray added that the store will be fully staffed during the eclipse.

Stewart’s Shops. Stewart’s Shops, with convenience stores in the state of New York, has been offering $2 eclipse glasses for several weeks, and limited supplies have been largely depleted, Robin Cooper, a spokesperson for the Ballston Spa, New York-based company, told CSP Daily News. The chain is self-distributing, and it does not have additional supplies ready to be sent out to the stores, he said.

“Demand has been good. There’s been a big interest throughout the Adirondacks, and a lot of our 358 shops do happen to be in the path where experts think it’s supposed to be the best viewing,” he said. “The biggest thing for us is we’ve been getting a lot of calls from folks in the community, economic development groups and police departs have reached out wanting to know if we’ll have extra gas shipments and product shipments, and actually we are watching it.”

Stewart’s Shops are normally resupplied every two or three days, he said, “but with gas, we’ll be looking to top them off with a few extra deliveries here and there. We going to be watching them every day. And the same thing with product. It’ll be a day-by-day thing.”

He said that hotels have been booked for months in the Lake Ontario, Lake Placid, Watertown, U.S.-Canadian border region in the eclipse’s path .

7-Eleven. Participating 7-Eleven c-stores, along with Speedway and Stripes locations nationwide, are offering solar eclipse glasses, as well as discounted pizza.

Subscribers of 7NOW Gold Pass, the retailer's subscription delivery service, can add a free pair of solar eclipse shades with any order made between April 4 to April 8, while supplies last. And 7NOW Gold Pass subscribers also can get a whole pizza for $3 all day on April 8.

“At 7-Eleven, we're proud to be there for our customers through every occasion, both big and small—which includes remarkable moments like a total eclipse,” said Marissa Jarratt, executive vice president, chief marketing and sustainability officer for the Irving, Texas-based company. “Our stores are open and ready to serve those making the trek to snag a prime viewing spot for the solar sensation.”

Buc-ee’s. Mega-convenience retailer Buc-ee’s Ltd. had hoped to open a c-store in Hillsboro, Texas, in the second week of April in time for the eclipse, according to a report by MySanAntonio. That opening has been delayed.

But Buc-ee’s is providing every public K-12 school in Texas with the opportunity to receive a free solar eclipse viewing kit. These Totality over Texas kits include shareable and reusable solar eclipse viewing cards, classroom activities, safety instructions, educational materials and training opportunities for Texas educators.

Funded by the Lake Jackson, Texas-based gas station chain, the Houston Museum of Natural Science launched the initiative to send solar eclipse educational tools such as lesson plans, classroom activities, virtual programs and educator training materials. Hundreds of boxes toting eclipse kits have already landed at schools across the state in preparation for the big event.

There are about 1,200 school districts in Texas, and all but 51 have inquired about receiving eclipse kits from the museum, Nicole Temple, the museum’s vice president of education said.

“This has been a colossal effort for over a year, Temple said. “For the most part, we are mailing them to school districts who then distribute them. Every district in our region has picked them up.”

“Texas students will experience a once-in-a-lifetime event when the 2024 total solar eclipse, which will be visible across the state, takes place on April 8,” Jeff Nadalo, a Buc-ee’s spokesperson, said. “At Buc-ee’s, we believe all children should have the opportunity to enjoy, experience and learn about our solar system, which is why we are proudly supporting the Houston Museum of Natural Science in their supplying K-12 Texas schools with free solar eclipse viewing kits.”

Make Hay While the Sun Don't Shine

“The massive number of people expected to hit the roads to see the eclipse presents massive challenges—and opportunities—for retailers,” Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), Alexandria, Virginia, told CSP.

“Communities directly in the path of the eclipse are expected to see their populations swell by factors or three or more, which means that traffic could be a nightmare,” he said. “They should plan now for how to run shifts and deliveries both on the day of the eclipse and the day before and after to minimize disruptions. And also plan for how individual stores will manage operations during the peak of totality. Do you have a plan to ensure you are properly staffed and that they are able to get to work? And do you have a plan for how staff and customers can view the eclipse?”

He said there also are opportunities to increase sales during the eclipse by offering eclipse-themed items. There are several craft brewers with special offerings. “Also be ready for a big run on drinks in your cooler and at the pump as eclipse gazers drive about before and after the event,” Lenard said. “Find ways to be clever on social media  to draw attention to your stores. Also, be in touch with community officials to stay on top of any travel restrictions or ordinances that could affect traffic patterns. Most of all, have fun and enjoy what is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many customers and employees.”

Kudos to NACS, by the way, for the best convenience-store-related eclipse pun: “Total Eclipse of the Mart.” Cue Bonnie Tyler.

April 8 solar eclipse/NASA

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