MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) - The sounds of revving engines, music and a good times are alive in the Grand Strand as Harley Week, also known as the Spring Bike Rally, kicks off in the Grand Strand. Thousands are in town for the seven-day event, their motorcycles showing where money and time is being spent in the many establishments up and down Highway 17.
"We go all over, we go up and down to North Myrtle Beach...we're just going to cruise," Murrells Inlet resident and Harley Week-goer Speedy Zalli said. Her friend and neighbor, Virginia Kacer, said a few of their favorite places to visit during Harley Week are Spokes & Bones, Beaver Bar and restaurants along the Marshwalk. The women were all smiles as they spent Mother's Day with their families at biker-friendly establishments in Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach, and took their motorcycles to get there.
Weather has dampened event-goer spirits and business in years past, but not this year. With a sunny seven-day forecast of over 80 degrees, vendors and people in town for the event said they have nothing but positive vibes for this year's Harley Week outcome.
One Harley Week veteran is no stranger to the weather woes. WMBF News reporter Meredith Helline spoke with vendor Rusty Jones last year. He said he spent over $12,000 to get his RV, motorcycles and other items for sale to Murrells Inlet for the festival. When the weather is bad, he said it takes its toll on his expenses. However, Helline caught back up with Rusty Jones this year, and he had a much different outlook for this year.
"I like coming back home and seeing good friends and family...and really good business," Murrells Inlet native and long-time vendor Rusty Jones told Helline. "It's growing, you know, it messed us up for five or six years, but it's getting better," he explained, in reference to the festival leaving the Myrtle Beach area due to conflicts with new helmet and noise laws, in addition to past bad weather.
The Horry County spokeswoman said the gradual vendor fee increase to $800 helps pay for public safety costs. But even as the event recovers from leaving Myrtle Beach, you can see this year's Harley Week still doesn't compare to it's glory years like 2002. The spokeswoman said in 2002, over 500 vendor permits were issued.
This year, there are five vending locations in Horry County, and one in Georgetown County. For vending locations click here to be re-directed to that information.
Jones said it takes him 24 hours to get to the beach from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Jones owns the business Rusty Jones Customs, specializing in Indian and Victory motorcycles. He remembers the days when the Spring Rally attracted up to 250,000 people. Although the event hasn't reached those numbers since leaving Myrtle Beach, he said he always comes.
"We stay here the whole month of May before we head to Daytona for another rally, it's worth it for us," Jones said.
For the people not at the 78th annual Harley Week to make money, it's the culture they come for.
"Last year, Matt and I broke down and...how many bikes did we have? Eighty? Eighty bikes [riding with us]. Everybody was stopping, cars were stopping, people on bikes not even with us were stopping...pulling over...asking are you okay? Can we help? So it's a really, really close, tight community," Kacer said. Zalli agreed. "It's a giving community," she said. Harley Week events include charity rides and breakfasts. Zalli said one ride is planned this week for a biker who recently passed away, and in honor of his surviving son.
No matter where you go along Highway 17 this week, it's an almost guarantee you'll see a bike or two. Kacer said she just became involved with Harley Week after moving to Murrells Inlet a few years ago. Since then, her and her husband look forward to it each year, and plan their work week to enjoy the week to its fullest.
"That's the thing..the great entertainment," Kacer said. "Even if you're not involved in any riding or anything like that, just going out to like Spoke's & Bones, Beaver Bar...SBB...[they] all have great bands. It brings a lot of money to the community, so that's a good thing too," Kacer said.
For information on Horry County laws, event information, hand signals and safety tips click here.