STURGIS, SC (Tribune News Service) – The 81st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally doesn’t officially start until August 6, but Sturgis business owners and vendors are already seeing rally fans coming to town.
The 81st rally is expected to be one of the largest gatherings yet, although no one is sure exactly how many people will attend. More than 700,000 people attended the 75th rally in 2015. Last year there were around 460,000.
On Thursday, sellers were busy setting up their stands and getting ready to start selling the next day. Outside vendor licenses take effect Friday.
Virginia Rhodes of Cycle Shirts has been selling rally merchandise for 48 years now. She started helping sell motorcycle helmets for $ 30 – everything has gotten a lot more expensive since then, she noted – in 1973. She eventually expanded into t-shirts and got a federal mark. for the phrase “Sturgis Bike Week”, which she then sold to another local business owner.
Her business, which she runs with her family, was setting up rows of tables with Sturgis t-shirts and a tent with sweatshirts and womenswear Thursday afternoon at the corner of rue Lazelle and avenue Junction. Dozens of empty T-shirt boxes were empty all over the parking lot.
During its many years of presence, each rally attracts more people and costs more than the last. Rhodes said she noticed more people were already in town for the rally than ever before.
âI have never seen so many people so soon. Never, âshe said.
People came to her booth to buy rally themed merchandise, but she had to turn them down as they weren’t open yet.
She said the best part of the rally every year is meeting new people, visiting old friends, and enjoying the beautiful weather with the Black Hills as a backdrop.
“Visiting with people who have already bought from us, old friends and see how their life has been over the past year, how many new children and grandchildren, as well as new people you are talking to” , she said.
Isabelle Drumm has worked at the Final Touch booth for the past six years, which is currently located across from One Eyed Jack’s Saloon with another location outside of the Knuckle.
Final Touch has so much merchandise – from traditional Sturgis T-shirts and leather vests to baby onesies and bandana-shaped tank tops – they struggle to fit everything in the booth.
âLast year we opened a week before the start of the rally and last year we did two weeks, and [this year] it’s already as busy as last year. It seems to happen every year, we open earlier every year, âshe said.
As things have evolved, Drumm also expects this to be one of the most important years of all time.
âI now think COVID is less of a thing than it used to be, and then the Hells Angels are here this year, and I think it’s going to bring a lot of business to a lot of places. I think this will probably be one of the most, if not the most important, years in rally history, âshe said.
Drumm said that each year an “overwhelming” number of people show up and the first weekend of the rally is usually the busiest day at the booth.
âIt feels like the whole town of Sturgis and the whole state of South Dakota are in this booth. It’s crazy, âshe said.
Like Rhodes, Drumm enjoys chatting with rally enthusiasts and working alongside his colleagues at Final Touch and the staff at One Eyed Jack’s.
âIt’s just fun. Even when you work, you have fun, you get to know people from all over the place. I mean, I’ve met people from all over the world, âDrumm said. âYou make friends, you bond and every year you come back, it’s a lot of the same people – you make long-term friends. It’s a big party, even when you are working.
For Sturgis’ physical businesses, the rally generates a large portion of their annual profits.
Sturgis Liquor Store, which is owned by the city, achieves 20 to 25% of its activity during the 10 days of the rally. Travis Parker, who has worked at the liquor store since 2017, said that in 2020 he made around $ 560,000 at the rally.
The store adds eight to 12 employees during the rally and increases its inventory by approximately $ 100,000. Even then and with all the checkouts open, the lines still slip into the aisles and the store is running out of a few drinks. Parker said that with COVID playing with the supply chain, it has been difficult to stock some products in the first place.
Jack Daniels whiskey is the benchmark for many customers during rally week, Parker said, as well as “heavy hitters” like Tito’s vodka and “an unholy amount” of Fireball whiskey.
The liquor store engraves whiskey bottles with rally logos and can also engrave custom bottles for customers. More often than not, clients want their names, but Parker said he engraves many military motifs as well. The engravings are done by two employees, including Parker, and a salesman pulls up outside to help engrave bottles as well.
Engraved bottles are in high demand, and Parker said the store does hundreds of engravings each year, which can get stressful as it takes 10 to 12 minutes per bottle.
âBut it’s cool when you hand someone a bottle and they smile,â he said.
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The 2014 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (Facebook)