Rally numbers a mixed bag

Jason Ferguson

Monday morning, Sturgis Motorcycle Rally director Jerry Cole was quoted in the Rapid City Journal as saying this year’s rally was on pace to break attendance records, making it the largest rally in the 81 years of the rally’s existence.
Motorcyles have been flooding into the Black Hills since early last week and, while it appears there could be a record number of bikes, whether or not they are spending money in Custer depends on who you ask.
Leah Scott, chief operating officer for Custer Hospitality, said, while Custer Hospitality’s properties started off strong with occupancy, they are starting to see cancellations they attribute to the COVID-19 Delta variant.
“We still have rooms available for the duration of the rally,” she said. “It’s a bit concerning, but we are hopeful to see additional foot traffic for last-minute travelers.”
In fact, Scott said Custer Hospitality was pacing better for last year’s rally—which saw much smaller numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic—than it is this year.
“The summer as a whole has been very strong, but we are seeing slower pick-up for the rally,” she said.
Janet Boyer, one of the owners of Mt. Rushmore Brewing Co., said business dropped 10-25 perent in the lead-up and during the early part of the rally.
“We’re off the beaten path. We’re not a destination,” she said of the brewery, which is a little further down Mt. Rushmore Road. “I know the bike (numbers) are huge, but they aren’t necessarily spending money in this town.”
Prior to the rally, however, Boyer said the brewing company was experiencing a great summer.
“Fabulous,” she said. “We were up, up, up.”
At Lynn’s Dakotamart, manager Barry Bowar said he couldn’t necessarily quantify how how good business has been at the rally so far this year, but did say it’s busier than last year. It has continued what has been a strong summer for the store that started before Memorial Day.
Cherish Baker, owner of Baker’s Bakery, said, while things are up compared to last year’s rally, the rally has provided near the amount of business the restaurant was seeing this summer prior to the rally.
“It’s not as busy as the regular tourist season has been. We were doing 75th rally numbers every day for three months straight until the rally started,” she said. “It is definitely up from last year, but it’s like a break for us right now because we were so busy throughout the summer.”
Farzad Farroki, partner at Buglin’ Bull Restaurant and Sports Bar, said he heard Sturgis has been extremely busy, but that business has been essentially the same as a year ago at the Buglin’ Bull.
Custer County Sheriff Marty Mechaley said, while things are busier than they were last year and his deputies have been kept busy, it hasn’t been overwhelming.
“Sometimes it will be gridlock downtown with bikes and sometimes it gets quiet,” he said.
Mechaley said there have been quite a few accidents in Custer County so far, mostly in Custer State Park by riders who are overdriving the curvy roads.
Then there are the 911 misdials and hangups.
“Lots of them,” Mechaley said.
Early Department of Transporation numbers don’t point to a record year of traffic.
Traffic counts at nine locations entering Sturgis show numbers up from a year ago, but well down from the 75th rally six years ago.
For instance, numbers on Saturday were up 23.1 percent from a year ago, but down 18 percent from the 75th rally. On the first Sunday, numbers were at 65,771 entering—up 17.1 percent from Sunday last year, but down 27.2 percent from the 75th rally.
Scott said overall, Custer Hospitality has been able to keep close to 100 percent occupancy every night during the summer, but the amount of overtime by employees to do so has been unprecedented.
Many business are experience staffing shortages that have plagued the entire country for many months.
“We are fortunate to have a hard-working and loyal team willing to go the extra mile to keep Custer Hospitality always at its best,” she said. “We have been blessed with an exceptional year. The rebound from last year’s season came welcomed, both fast and hard without slowing down until just recently.”


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