Bryan Winchester didn’t have to look up at the sun with his eclipse glasses to know it was the day of the total solar eclipse — he could tell just by looking around his Ashley River Wells Fargo branch in Charleston, South Carolina, on Aug. 21.
Sitting in front of him were a bride and groom who’d stopped by to get their marriage license notarized. They were one of many couples who planned to time their nuptials to coincide with the first total solar eclipse viewable across the nation in 99 years.
“They had given us a heads up before the day that they’d be coming in,” Winchester said. “They were going over to a riverfront park to get married during the eclipse. As they got up, I congratulated them and told them I hoped everything went well with the wedding and their lives together — and that they didn’t get stuck in traffic.”
Winchester and his co-workers donned eclipse glasses given to them by a longtime customer and joined the crowd of people gathered in the bank’s shopping center who watched the skies from their lawn chairs.
“At 2:47 p.m., when the moon completely covered the sun, I looked out at Sam Rittenberg Boulevard, the main road out in front of our location, and there was no traffic moving on it at all. It was the first time I’d ever seen it deserted like that. Everyone was watching the eclipse.”
‘We’re glad we could be there for our customers’
Far away from South Carolina, but also in the path of totality, Wells Fargo branch manager Juan Leon and his team served customers in Madras, Oregon — a town of nearly 7,000 whose population swelled to more than 100,000 during the event. Eclipse watchers sold out every hotel and all 5,500 available campsites in the area, and the Lowell Observatory sent its astronomers and educators to Madras High School — less than a mile from Leon’s branch.
In the days leading up to the eclipse, the Madras bank’s ATM dispensed twice as much cash as usual. Leon even restocked the machine the Saturday before the eclipse, even though his branch was closed that day.
Even before Aug. 21, preparations were underway to ensure there were no disruptions in service. Leon and his team contacted local businesses to determine their needs. Realizing that $1 bills were in short supply, they put in a special order and the shipment arrived the same day. “Our business customers had submitted requests for change two weeks in advance, but realized they needed twice as much as they anticipated,” Leon said. “Some retail outlets wanted as much as $1,000 or $1,500 in $1 bills.”
Anticipating eclipse watchers from multiple countries, Leon also prepared to fulfill currency exchange requests, even though his team typically refers those customers to a different branch. “We served customers with currency exchange orders from Canada, four areas of France, Japan, and India,” he said. “According to the Jefferson County Tourism Group, we had visitors to Madras from 36 countries.”
And because the Oregon Department of Transportation had predicted jammed highways, District Manager Colm Boer shifted work assignments temporarily so team members could report to the branch closest to where they lived. Leon walked to work since he lives nearby.
During a lull in business during totality, Leon and teammates donned their eclipse-watching glasses and took in the sight — complete with a group lunch they had all chipped in to purchase so no one would have to venture out into traffic.
As the moon covered the sun, Leon said it grew dark and cold in Madras. The bank’s sign lit up and streetlights turned on as if it were night.
“Everyone was cheering and clapping,” Leon said. “Madras was able to see the moon cover the sun for a full two minutes. It was super cool. The moon had a bright ring around it. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life.”
After the eclipse, the small town’s roads were jammed with traffic for six hours. “It took one business customer an hour and 40 minutes to travel two miles to reach the branch to make a deposit because of all the people leaving,” Leon said.
Another pair of customers left Madras not only with eclipse memories, but also a plan to save more for retirement. “They were from California, and told Personal Banker John Hatfield it’s something they really wanted to do, and asked if he could help. And he took care of it for them,” Leon said. “We’re glad we could be there for our customers.”
‘It was a real team effort’
From reaching out to businesses to fulfill eclipse-related needs, to coordinating with local law enforcement, to adjusting commutes and work schedules, Wells Fargo team members were ready to keep serving their customers and communities during the historic event.
Wells Fargo Regional Banking Incident Management team member Noelle Busey said the bank began preparing for the event in June. Of the company’s 293 locations — including 181 bank branches — and 5,200 team members directly in the path of totality, only two of the branches closed during the event. The two branches, in Jackson and Wilson, Wyoming, couldn’t remain open when police closed roads for eclipse-watching events.
“We checked in with all of our partners, from marketing for signage needs, to the teams that move and supply currency, to security and human resources,” Busey said. “We reviewed NASA eclipse maps to determine affected offices, and even researched hotels in impacted areas to determine if cities where we’re located should expect an influx of tourists in town for the event.”
Reflecting on the work that went into making sure everything and everyone was ready for the big day, Busey said, “It was a real team effort.”
Amy Amirault, Karina Hou, and Tom Unger contributed to this story.