The annual Cruisin' the Coast Spring Bike Rally is on the rebound.
A year after the S.C. Supreme Court overturned a helmet law within the Myrtle Beach city limits, rally attendees and vendors say they saw a difference this year in the event that ends today.
"It's a lot better this year than it was last year when people stayed away because of the way they were treated by the city of Myrtle Beach," said Ruby Jones, a Myrtle Beach resident who attended her first rally in 2004. "They don't give them the respect to bring them back."
Jones spent Friday outside the city limits enjoying rally activities with friends and family.
Vendors, visitors and residents said this year's rally increased in size and attendance, but it was not close to the rally's heyday of several years ago when as many as 500,000 people attended. They estimated between 75,000 and 100,000 people were in town for this year's rally.
Jim Hutton, a 15-year employee of Mr. Fireworks near the Myrtle Beach Harley-Davidson shop on Kings Highway, said business improved this year, but it didn't compare to five or six years ago.
"Hopefully, everything will pick up next year and will be better than this," Hutton said. "The bikers say they'll be back."
Even though rally vendors flanked the front of the store where Hutton watched the crowds shop, large gaps that were once filled by vendors were easy to spot in the area a few yards south of the dealership.
"We took a hit, but we had better business than what they had just a few yards down the street," Hutton said. "This is a little better than last year and hopefully it keeps improving. Hotels can use the business, all the restaurants can use the business and even the jails can use the business."
The month of May was once notorious for the spring Harley-Davidson rally and the Atlantic Beach Bikefest, which begins Friday and hosts more than 150,000 attendees.
But in 2008, Myrtle Beach officials enacted a helmet law, noise ordinances and other restrictions within the city limits in an effort to curb the rallies. The laws angered many motorcyclists, vendors and community members.
Kristen Iskender, a Daytona Beach, Fla., resident, stayed away from the area for three years because of the laws, but said she returned this year following the helmet law's reversal.
"We heard it was getting better so we decided to try it out and see what happens," said Iskender, who had worked the Myrtle Beach rally for five years before taking a break. "No comparison [to previous years]. Back then it was great. I'm pretty sure the economy has something to do with it too."
Iskender was readying her sewing booth Friday afternoon near the Myrtle Beach Harley-Davidson shop on Kings Highway and said she attends every major motorcycle rally in the country. She won't return home until August, after attending her hometown bike week and rallies in Laconia, N.H., Sturgis, S.D., New Mexico and Tennessee.
Robert Pinto, a clothing and shoe vendor near the Harley-Davidson shop, said the law enacted by Myrtle Beach has kept vendors and motorcyclists away from the rally.
"We're hanging in there, but it's nothing like it used to be," Pinto said. "Even though it's a hard economy, they save their money and they come here and they are going to spend their money here. They make concessions to come here."
Restrictions on the rally had attendees going to other rallies, Pinto said.
"If bike week was allowed to be bike week like it used to be, people would find the money to come," Pinto said. "The economy has a small impact on bike week."
Maryland resident Robin Wedding is one of those bikers, who save and prepare for the bike rally. She attended her first spring rally in 2006 and has been coming back each year.
"I usually spend way too much money here," Wedding said of souvenirs and other items she buys only during the rally. "I hope it continues. If they continue losing money and not getting respect, they won't come back."
Denny Farrell, a motorcyclist from Charleston, W.Va., has attended annual motorcycle rallies across the country since 1986 and returned to Myrtle Beach this year after going to Daytona Beach, Fla., earlier this spring.
"If people are out of work, they can't afford to come, but the ones who are here will spend their money," said Farrell after he purchased a new pair of motorcycle boots Friday. "It's getting better, but it's not where it once was."
Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723.