Small town businesses embrace total solar eclipse crowd, come rain or shine on Monday

Kalee Hume stands alongside her handmade eclipse-themed soaps at her shop in downtown Waxahachie, Texas, on Saturday, April 6, 2024. Waxahachie will be in the path of totality for Monday's eclipse of the sun. (AP Photo/Marcia Dunn)
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By MARCIA DUNN

AP Aerospace Writer

WAXAHACHIE, Texas (AP) — The last time a total solar eclipse passed through this Texas town, horses and buggies filled the streets and cotton fetched 9 cents a pound. Nearly 150 years later, one thing hasn’t changed: the threat of clouds blocking the view.

Overcast skies are forecast for Monday’s cosmic wonder across Texas, already packing in eclipse chasers to the delight of small town businesses.

As the moon covers the sun, daytime darkness will follow a narrow corridor — from Mexico’s Pacific coast to Texas and 14 other states all the way to Maine and the eastern fringes of Canada. The best U.S. forecast: northern New England.

Like other communities along the path of totality, Waxahachie, a half-hour’s drive south of Dallas, is pulling out all the stops with a weekend full of concerts and other festivities.

It’s the region’s first total solar eclipse since 1878. The next one won’t be for almost another 300 years.

“I feel so lucky that I don’t have to go anywhere,” the Ellis County Museum’s Suzette Pylant said Saturday as she welcomed visitors in town for the eclipse. “I get to just look out my window, walk out my door and look up.”

She’s praying the weather will cooperate, as are the owners of all the shops clustered around the historic courthouse made of red sandstone and pink granite in the center of town. They’re bracing for a few hundred thousand visitors for Monday’s 4 minutes, 20 seconds of totality, close to the maximum of 4 minutes, 28 seconds elsewhere on the path.

The Oily Bar Soapery is hosting a Bubble Blackout all weekend, with eclipse-themed soaps and giveaways. Among the handmade soaps: “Luna,” “Solar Power,” “Mother Earth” and “Hachie Eclipse of the Heart.”

The next one is centuries away “so we figured we’d go all out,” explained owner Kalee Hume.

Nazir Moosa, who owns the Celebrity Cafe and Bakery, winced when he heard the weather report, but noted: “It’s weather. You can’t control it.”

North of Austin, Williamson County residents hope the eclipse puts the area’s new park on the map. The River Ranch County Park, which opened in July on the outskirts of the city of Liberty Hill, is sold out and ready to host hundreds on Monday

“It still has that new park smell,” said Sam Gibson, the park’s assistant office administrator.

Stacie Kenyon is inviting people to watch the eclipse from her Main Street Marketplace in the heart of Liberty Hill’s historic downtown — and escape inside the boutique if it rains.

“We were really hopeful, but now with this weather it is kind of a bummer,” Kenyon said. “We will just have to wait and see.”

In Waxahachie, there’s a sense of deja vu around the town of 45,000 residents.

A banner in the museum’s front window, displaying newspaper headlines from the July 29, 1878, eclipse, detailed the cloudy skies all morning. But just before the moon lined up between the sun and Earth that afternoon, the sky cleared.

Visiting from Campbell, California, Ed Yuhara studied weather patterns before settling on northern Texas to view the eclipse with his wife, Paula, and a few friends. “It turns out it will be the exact opposite,” he said while touring the museum.

He was in Oregon for October’s “ring of fire” solar eclipse, but got rained out.

Rain or shine, the Yuharas and friend Liz Gibbons plan on celebrating. “It’s a visual and physical experience and at my age, which is 75, I will never see one again,” Gibbons said.

Totality won’t sweep across the U.S. like this again until 2045, sidestepping almost all of Texas.

“It just blows me away,” Moosa said as he served up a large breakfast crowd. “The hotels rooms are booked and everything else … it’s very good news for Waxahachie.”