VENDOR RANKS HAVE been thinning at rallies over the last couple of years, and the shakeout isn't over, rally organizers say.
"Vendors are dropping like lead balloons. The rates are way too high for vendor fees," says Sonny Copeland, owner of the Myrtle Beach Bike Week Corp. and trademark. "The mom-and-pops no longer come here. They just can't afford it. The rents have gone outrageous."
Copeland estimates his vendor presence has dropped off between 10 and 20 percent per year from a peak of 600 in 2001, and he says he knows why.
"The county changed the rules and regulations. It used to be that if you were displaying, you did not have to buy a permit. Now you have to buy an $800 permit no matter what you do," he laments. "And if you have two cash registers in your tent, you have to buy another one."
Not everyone thinks a vendor shakeout is bad — it depends on the vendors. "The trend was, last year vs. two years ago, the vendor count was down," says Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association. But "a shakeout has been needed for a while"
"I have literally pleaded with vendors not to attend our rally. If they have a product that I think is questionable, like toiletries, I tell them maybe they should try a swap meet first," St. Clair says.
The economy has pulled down vendor presence at Laconia by about 12 percent in each of the last two years, as well as attendance.
"Even during motorcycle week, people are being very careful what they are buying. They have to pay the heating bill," St. Clair says. "That has hurt a lot of vendors [and] it has hurt a lot of dealerships. Therefore your vendors are going to be feeling that. We also have way too many leather vendors, T-shirt vendors, that kind of thing."
Laconia, however, expects a good turnout this year, partly because the city rolled back its vendor space fees by $1,000 and partly because it's the 85th anniversary of the rally. Milestone anniversaries usually increase the turnout.