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Businesses, cities cashing in on total solar eclipse crowds

BARTLETT, Tenn. (AP) — Millions of eyes will be fixed on the sky when a total solar eclipse crosses the U.S. in August, and it’s likely many of them will be safely behind the special glasses churned out by a Tennessee company.

American Paper Optics ramped up production for this year’s eclipse and expects to make 50 million paper and plastic eclipse glasses. John Jerit, the company’s CEO and president, said they began preparing about two years ago. During his almost 27 years making safety glasses, he’s only seen one total solar eclipse, in France in 1999, but will be going to Nashville for this one.

Millions of eyes will be fixed on the sky when a total solar eclipse crosses the U.S. in August. It’s likely many of those eyes will be safely behind eclipse glasses made by a Tennessee company, one of many businesses cashing in on the eclipse. (July 27)

“It’s a life experience,” Jerit said during an interview at his company’s office in the Memphis suburb of Bartlett. “When that two minutes is over, or however long you’ve got, the question that you really want to hear is, ‘When is the next one?’”

His company is one of many businesses — hotels, campgrounds and stores — taking advantage of the total solar eclipse — when the moon passes between Earth and the sun. The moon’s shadow will fall in a diagonal ribbon across the U.S., from Oregon to South Carolina. The rest of the U.S. will experience a partial eclipse, along with Canada, Central America and a bit of South America.

Cardboard frames for solar eclipse glasses are stacked in the American Paper Optics factory. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

Cities and towns along the path of totality — where there will be about 2 ½ minutes of darkness — are gearing up for the crowds. St. Joseph, Missouri, population 76,000, is in a prime location and officials are bracing for tens of thousands of eclipse watchers to descend on the city, said Beth Conway, spokeswoman for the St. Joseph Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The city’s restaurants, gas stations and stores are preparing for the onslaught — the city’s largest arts and music festival with the nickname “Total Eclipse of the Arts” is scheduled on the weekend leading up to the eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21.

“This is essentially our Super Bowl,” Conway said. “If we see anywhere near the amount of people that they’re telling us, it will probably be the biggest event in our history.”

The city has gotten into the act as well, selling eclipse glasses, posters and blue and yellow T-shirts decorated with a drawing of the city’s skyline and an iconic railroad bridge, and with the slogan “Right in the Middle of it All.”

Conway said a benefactor donated 100,000 safety glasses designed for the city and proceeds are going to local museums and charities.

Sales have been “amazing, phenomenal,” she said. “It’s just blown our minds.”

At the Tennessee factory, a constant whirring sound fills the factory as large sheets of paper are fed into machines. One cuts out the eyeholes in the pre-printed frames, another inserts the protective film lenses. Then the glasses are punched out of the sheets and packaged.

About 50,000 glasses can roll off the assembly line per hour, Jerit said. Paper glasses cost about 20 to 25 cents to make, and they are sold to distributors for about 45 cents, but prices vary depending on order size. They’re sold retail for about $2. The plastic versions are about $15.

Staring at the sun during an eclipse — or anytime — can cause eye damage. The only safe way is to protect your eyes with special filters in glasses or other devices. NASA lists four companies, including American Paper Optics, whose glasses meet international standards.

Employees prepare solar eclipse glasses for shipping at the American Paper Optics factory. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

“It’s eye protection for enjoyment,” said Jerit, whose main business is making 3-D glasses.

Besides retail outlets, the company sells the glasses to cities, universities and space-related entities like NASA and the Adventure Science Center in Nashville. Some are custom-designed, like the ones for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital which are decorated with children’s drawings. Under the wacky category: glasses to make the wearer look like an astronaut, space cowboy or a green alien.

Green Acres farm near Casper, Wyoming, is one of the many farms and parks welcoming eclipse watchers. The farm, which normally features a corn maze and other children’s activities, has been turned into a campground with 300 campsites in prime eclipse viewing territory.

“We have people coming from Australia, Belgium, several from Canada. I have a guy from England coming that’s seen 17 eclipses,” said manager Dwain Romsa. “We’re a little more remote than some areas. It takes more effort to travel here.”

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Associated Press writers Jim Salter in St. Louis and Kristin M. Hall in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

  • Jason Lewin

How the solar eclipse changed one local company's business model

(8/28/2017) A local company made at least 40 million pairs of solar eclipse glasses this year. A final count is still being tallied — and the orders just keep coming.

According to American Paper Optics' director of marketing Jason Lewin, the new orders are coming from those who want to commemorate the August 21 total solar eclipse.

The Bartlett company was one of five American Astronomical Society-verified manufacturers that made eclipse glasses and handheld viewers that met international safety standards.

Memphis received about 94 percent obscuration. Many local organizations and businesses held parties and sold special branded merchandise.

Lewin said that he did not yet have a revenue figure to share but that there was obviously a spike in the normal revenue stream, something that the company had been building up to for two years.

"Lots of time and energy — not to mention money — went into positioning ourselves to be the biggest and best eclipse glasses provider," he said. "That planning ultimately paid off."

The company sold bulk glasses online, but sold single sets at retailers such as Lowe's and Walmart stores.

When Memphians got wind that their glasses were being made locally, the demand ended up necessitating an American Paper Optics solar eclipse pop-up shop at the company's offices.

"It’s funny, we never planned to have a pop-up shop. In fact, we were against the idea of doing it all together," Lewin said. "Being a large manufacturer, the goal was to focus on building inventory while getting the 10,000 plus individual orders out per day. A couple of months before the eclipse, we began to field calls asking if folks could come by and purchase from the facility. The e-mails and calls soon turned into 30-40 people per day stopping by our location asking if they could purchase the glasses. We quickly realized that the only thing we could do to satisfy the local consumer was to provide the pop-up shop."

The shop opened a week before the eclipse and ran from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. for a week. Lewin said the company had a couple thousand visitors daily.

"From 7 to 6, there was never a lull in people stopping by," Lewin said. "Each morning, before 7 a.m., people would begin waiting in line."

The company will balance the big spikes with lots of planning and preparing. And, lessons from this year's event will come in handy seven years from now, on April 8, 2024, when the next total solar eclipse will be visible from the United States.

"There certainly was not a blueprint for the demand that we saw during this eclipse," Lewin said. "It was wild watching it all unfold. Going from a few hundred orders a day to 14,000 plus, you are forced to completely change your entire operational structure. Everything completely changes overnight. You have to be ready to do whatever it takes to get the product out to the consumer. Even if that means doubling the staff and keeping the doors opened 24 hours a day, six to seven days a week. Planning and time management proved to be key in all of this. When 2024 comes around, our process will be absolutely flawless. We are already in the planning stages."

  • Jason Lewin

For an Eclipse, Safe Solar Eclipse Glasses Are Needed

Solar eclipses do not happen often in the United States. The last one occurred in 1979 and the next one will occur in 2017. Total eclipses of the sun are rare and occur when the moon passes between the earth and the sun. Daytime turns into nighttime for a short period of time, and it is a must-see experience. Knowing that it is such a rare occurrence makes it one that many people look to with anticipation. To view the eclipse all you need is a pair of safe solar eclipse glasses – like the ones at American Paper Optics – and you're all ready to go!

  • Alexander Risse

In Search of the Best Solar Filters

Looking at the sun without protection is a bad idea, and solar filters are essential for safe viewing. However, there is no need to spend a lot of money when you check out equipment for the upcoming total solar eclipse. In fact, Eclipse Glasses has affordable solutions which look great and provide all the protection you need. Here are some of the good things these products have to offer.

Safe and Sturdy Eclipse Glasses

  • Alexander Risse

The Great American Eclipse is Almost Here!

On August 21st of 2017, a rare, beautiful phenomenon will occur. This is a major event, and nearly one-hundred million people will get to see it. You will want to have plenty of affordable solar eclipse viewer glasses on hand, and American Paper Optics has some of the best products for you. Let's review some important things to know, to help you have the best possible eclipse experience.

  • Alexander Risse