A massive 10-day motorcycle rally in South Dakota begins Friday and is expected to draw up to 250,000 tourists, pitting local businesses who rely on the event to stay afloat against citizens concerned about a coronavirus outbreak.
The 80th edition of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in a town of 7,000 residents could mark the largest public gathering in the US since the onset of the pandemic.
City officials in Sturgis have taken measures to limit attendance, such as canceling city-hosted events and cutting advertising.
But Rod Woodruff, the operator of Buffalo Chip, a nearby campground and concert venue that will house and entertain many of the visitors, estimates record attendance.
“It’s the biggest single event that’s going on in the United States that didn’t get canceled,” said Woodruff.
“A lot of people think it’s going to be bigger than ever.”
In past years, attendees have spent about $800 million at the rally, according to the state Department of Tourism.
“We spend money for 355 days of the year without any return on it, hoping people show up for nine days,” said Woodruff. “We’re a nine-day business.”
Despite the influx of cash into the small city, 60 percent of Sturgis residents this year opposed holding the event in August, according to a city-conducted survey.
At a June city council meeting, resident Linda Chaplin said it was a “huge, foolish mistake” for Sturgis to host the gathering this year.
“The government of Sturgis needs to care most for its citizens,” Chaplin told lawmakers.
As of Wednesday, South Dakota has seen 9,168 cases of the novel coronavirus and 137 deaths from the disease.
With Post Wires
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