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Sturgis biker rally starts despite COVID-19 concerns

Andy Uhler Aug 7, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
People stroll along Main Street on Thursday, the day before the start of the annual Sturgis Mortorcycle Rally. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Sturgis biker rally starts despite COVID-19 concerns

Andy Uhler Aug 7, 2020
People stroll along Main Street on Thursday, the day before the start of the annual Sturgis Mortorcycle Rally. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

A quarter-million people are expected to roll through Sturgis, South Dakota, over the next 10 days for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

On all other days, the population of the town on the edge of the Black Hills is about 7,000, which means the event is important economically to residents.

The rally has been scaled back in its 80th year, with no parades or contests. The city stopped advertising the event a few months ago.

Daniel Ainslie, city manager, said sales tax revenue will suffer if fewer people show up.

“If you look at what the city nets from it, from an average rally, it’s anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million,” he said.

That’s 11% of what the city spends on parks, roads, police, fire and other services.

Then there’s the impact to businesses already suffering because of COVID-19 — not only in Sturgis but those in the region that benefit from bikers spending money on their way to the rally.

“The thought of not having the rally would really mean that they would end up closing,” Ainslie said.

The rally annually injects some $800 million into South Dakota’s economy.

But despite the significant economic benefits of the rally, plenty of residents are worried about getting sick. 

A sign on a storefront limiting occupants in Sturgis, South Dakota, on Aug. 6.
A sign on a Sturgis storefront limiting occupants. The rally normally attracts 500,000 people, but officials estimate attendance will be reduced by half this year.

Brenda Janovy, a registered nurse in the area, raised her concerns at a City Council meeting in June. She said even in a normal year, the rally crowds area hospitals.

“We do not have the medical beds, staff, etc., that we need to deal with traumas and COVID at the same time,” she said.

The event normally draws around half a million people. While crowds may be smaller this year, the mayor has said there’s nothing he can do to prevent people from coming.

“A lot of us rent out our houses, rent our yards, etc.,” said Kimm Lischefska, who works at a bar in Sturgis. “And the people who come and stay have already said, yeah, we’re coming.”

Sturgis officials said they will conduct mass coronavirus testing after the rally ends on August 16 to learn whether all those bikers brought new cases of COVID-19 to town.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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