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Rally takes off with a bang, beer sales issue resolved

Up to 40,000 motorcycle enthusiasts are expected to come to Hollister during the three-day rally, which had a beer sales issue on Day 1
Custom machines from Denver Choppers are at the Veterans' Memorial Building on Friday. On Saturday, Corbin will sponsor more bikes.
Hanging out at Johnny's.
The State Board of Equalization is at The Vault to make sure everyone pays their taxes.
A member of the Boozefighters, the club that reportedly started the whole thing back in 1946. He's from Northern California now, but comes from Switzerland.
By 1 p.m. Friday, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of bikes lined up in downtown.
Entertainment at the Veterans' Memorial Building.
Plenty of food vendors for every taste, including many local eateries, are open.
Police are present, but observing for the most part, and keeping the peace.
Many local residents were hired to work through the event.

Even though Reno-based Roadshows Entertainment paid $135,000 upfront to the city of Hollister to promote this year's Independence Rally, the city is expected to fall $25,000 to $50,000 short of paying for increased security and emergency services over the three-day annual event, which kicked off Friday. 

However, Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said he believes other monies, made up of licensing fees and sales taxes, will make up the shortfall. How much money the city will actually clear after the last motorcycle rumbles out of town and the hundred or so vendors fold their tents to head to the next event, is anyone’s guess. The previous promoter still owes the city $90,000 after the 2015 rally.

“There will be additional revenues through sales tax with all the vendors now reporting,” Velazquez said. “We have the Board of Equalization here to make sure we’re collecting all the sales tax. In the long run as it grows we’re going to see more sales revenue and more businesses earning the dollars they need to survive.”

Velazquez said that if everything goes well and the promoter keeps its promises, the city will renew the contract and Roadshows will not have to go through the request for proposal process again.

“It will come down to how they ran the rally,” he said. “Was it efficient and well-organized, and did they keep their promises? If they didn’t do it, then we’ll have to have another conversation.”

Part of the $185,000 total cost will cover fire and emergency expenses.

Despite optimism about the annual event, its opening day didn't go off without a hitch, as beer sales were halted for a number of hours while permit issues were worked out

On the security front, Hollister Police Chief David Westrick said his marching orders for his force is to take care of problems as they arise, but they’re not at the rally to write tickets and make arrests.

“We’re out here just to keep the peace,” he said. “We’re not out here to be authoritarians, we’re out here to enjoy the environment and to make sure if there are any problems we take care of them then and there.”

He said that in addition to the Hollister Police, there are a number of agencies in town, including the California Department of Corrections, Monterey County and San Benito county probation departments, as well as San Benito County Sheriffs’ officers.

“We’re here just to solve problems,” he said. “There’s no list of people we’re looking for. I don’t anticipate any issues, and, hopefully, we can take care of little problems before they become big problems.”

“We will have two additional engines with three personnel on each,” said Bob Martin Del Campo, Hollister Fire Chief. “We have four bike patrols. There will be a hose cart (basically a golf cart with 400 feet of hose) out there with one person on it. The cart is to get the hose into the really densely populated area.”

Del Campo said all of his battalion chiefs, division chief, and code enforcement, as well as himself, a total of six personnel, will be in utility vehicles, “chasing illegal fireworks.”

In front of Veterans Memorial Building on Friday, June 30, bike enthusiast—who rides an Indian Chieftain—and city councilman, Raymond Friend was anticipating the arrival of the Denver Choppers, which would be setting up several customized bikes in front of the building. Through good and bad times, Friend has been a staunch supporter of the rally as a councilman and rider.

“I hope it brings in revenue to the city, but it also brings tourists,” he said. “That’s one of the things we’ve identified as part of our economic development plan, is to bring tourists into our town. We hope to get 35,000 to 45,000 people to come here over the next three days to spend their money and add to the city’s coffers.”

He said the rally brings recognition to the city as the Home of the American Biker and the biker capital of the world.

“Now we just have to prove that we are,” Friend said.

He said he has heard nothing but positive comments about Roadshows’ efforts.

“They’ve been very helpful and they’ve hired almost 150 local people,” he said. “They brought 15 people from Reno, but everybody else working the rally are local. They’re hiring the Lions Club, the Elks, people from Gavilan College, and the high school. And several of our homeless people are working.”

Danielle Squire, Roadshows Inc. operations manager, has been working for the company for eight years. She said a lot of time is involved in organizing the rally and that people from the company have been coming to Hollister every two weeks ever since securing the contract for planning meetings with the planning and police and fire departments, and other city departments to make sure the event is both fun and safe, as well as to foster a good working relationship with the city.

“We’ve been meeting with vendors from Daytona, Florida to Southern California, and everywhere in between for months to get them signed up for the show,” she said. “We’ve been advertising in all the magazines and other media in the motorcycle world to get the word out.”

Squire said June 30 that everyone was in the setup stage and would be ready when the rally officially got underway at 9 a.m., July 1, to run through July 3.

Squire was well aware of the bumpy road the rally has experienced with other promoters and explained that Roadshows wanted to be involved in this year’s event because of Hollister’s history in the motorcycle world.

“It doesn’t matter where you go when you talk about Hollister,  people know what you’re talking about,” she said. “The different facets of our organization helping put this on includes Tom Recel and his biker clothing company (Biker Design) who does the event T-shirts has been coming here for years as a vendor, and he knows how great it is. The same with Brian Holt, owner of Official Gear Co., has also been coming here for years. Randy Burke (president of Roadshows, Inc.) is a successful producer of motorcycle shows all over the country and he knows what a good show looks like. Coming to Hollister just makes sense for us.”

There are approximately 100 vendors from around the country at the rally, Squire said. As for how many people she expect to show up over the following three days, she said 40,000 is a realistic number. Velazquez is anticipating a somewhat lower number, closer to 30,000. If Squire’s expectations pan out, she said it would represent a successful show from Roadshows’ perspective.

“Anybody would be happy with that number,” she said. “Our weather should be fantastic. We should be in a really good temperature range. And California is so convenient and the areas around Hollister is great for day-trippers, so people are going to look at the weather and say, ‘man, this is going to be a really good ride,’ and they’ll come down here for the day.”

When discussing past rallies and the lack of profits for the city, she said she thinks everyone, including the city, will make money this time around.

“We’ve done our part and fulfilled our obligations of the contract with the city, so any monies they were expecting from us to produce has been taken care of,” she said. “Our contract for the city was $130,000, and we paid additional fees.”

Squire said she believes local businesses will benefit from the rally as Roadshows people and venders spend money on logging and food.

“We’ve been here for close to a week and we’re staying in hotels, eating and drinking here,” she said, “and those 40,000 motorcycle riders are people are here to have a good time. For many people, going to a rally is their vacation for the year. So they’re coming here to spend money on hotels, camping at Bolado Park, and to eat and drink. Their presence is going to cause a revenue stream.”

To head off critics of the rally who have been very vocal about vendors not paying taxes, Squire said she has been working closely with the Board of Equalization (BOE) for the past two months.

“We have opened up our registration area here in The Vault and they will be having a table to make sure that the venders we have brought into town are following the rules and all of their tax ID numbers are properly reported, and they know how to report their sales at the end of the event,” she said. “Working closely with BOE is going to be the key for us.”

She confirmed Ray Friend’s comment about locals being hired to work the event.

“We’ve been working closely with Gavilan College and they’ve been a great partner in getting the word out that we were looking to hire,” Squire said. “I have close to 60 people from the Hollister area who will be working for me throughout the next four days.”

She couldn’t confirm if any of the recently-hired temporary workers were homeless, but said everyone who did apply had to have an ID, including Social Security cards.

“If they were able to provide everything so I could legally hire them, I was able to do so,” she said. “This is an event, so these are minimum wage jobs, at $10 an hour, working anywhere from a 4- to 8-hour shift.”

Squire said she wanted to assure residents that the company has tried to be a good neighbor for those businesses downtown.

“We’ve tried to reach as many businesses as possible and we’ve been working closely with the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Association to let the merchants know the hours the streets will be shut down,” she said. “If merchants are staying open during the event and need parking passes, we’ve tried to accommodate them.”

She said the city council has not yet given the company an indication when they would have to apply for the 2017 event.

Unknowingly, she echoed Mayor Velazquez’s comment, saying, “We’ve tried to follow all the rules and be the best promoters to make this a successful event that meets the needs and expectations of the city. By the end of the show if it is deemed that we did everything that we could, I don’t see why they wouldn’t ask us to come back.”

As the rally was getting underway July 1, and San Benito Street was just beginning to show signs that it would fill up with thousands of gleaming bikes by noon, Burk said, “Ninety-nine percent of what we do is dictated by the weatherman. It looks like we’re going to have 80 degree weather for the weekend. That’s the first sign of a successful rally.”

Then he said, almost prophetically, about when he would know if the rally is going to be successful, “If we can get through today, we’ll know. This is the shakeout day, when the inspectors come by, and the city people come by, this is when the tax people come by. This is when we have to make sure all the hatches are battened down and everybody is up to code and ready to work. That’s a challenge because those folks who do the inspections give our venders a check list to get done, and sometimes we have to help them because they’re not familiar with the community.”

Apparently all those hatches weren’t battened down, nor was everyone up to code, because it wasn’t long before many of those hundreds, if not thousands, of bikers became aware that all the Roadshows-run beer gardens were not open. As bands played to empty venues Friday morning, people started heading to the few places in town, besides Johnny’s Bar and Grill and Whiskey Creek, they could quench their thirst.

The one prominent group that began to benefit immediately were the veterans, who were selling beer and liquor, along with tri-tip sandwiches, inside Veterans Memorial Building. Joe Love, of American Legion Post 69, quipped, “We’ve got the beer, and I know where I can find more, just in case.”

Chillin’ and Grillin’ was also benefiting from Roadshows’ mishap, as they were selling beer inside the old Muenzer’s Cyclery and Sports Store, and Fisher’s Delicatessen was also offering cold brews, along with a selection of sandwiches.

At 1 p.m., people who were hired to sell beer at the beer gardens by 10 a.m. were still sitting inside The Vault, waiting to hear word. At 3:07 p.m. Roadshows texted BenitoLink to say that the beer gardens were open.

About:
John Chadwell (John Chadwell)

Former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist. Award-winning writer for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University. Graduate studies at USC Cinema School. Also, author of eight novels, copywriter and scriptwriter.

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