Beer tent decision doesn't sit well with all at Weirs Beach

LACONIA — This week's decision by the City Council to allow the operators of beer tents to begin serving two days before the opening of Motorcycle Week on June 14 has not set well with at least two owners of watering holes at The Weirs.

Brett Loring of the Paradise Beach Club said that he only learned of the decision from a report in yesterday's newspaper. He said that the challenge of running a business at The Weirs, where the warm months account for such a large volume of sales, is stiff enough without the additional competition from itinerant enterprises that cater to Motorcycle Week then leave. He conceded that beer tents have become fixtures during the rally, when the crowds are large, but said to allow them to operate beyond the bounds of the event, was not fair to local businesses.

"Before Bike Week it's pretty slim pickings," Loring said. "It picks up as the vendors arrive and the bikers begin trickling in before the first weekend." He questioned why the council saw fit to allow the beer tents to take a share of that business. "To serve beer, wine and liquor we have to run a restaurant and we pay property taxes," he said. "There's no full service in the beer tents. They don't even have to sell hot dogs." He said that the impact would not only fall on local businesses but also on their employees, who live and work in the community.

"I'm with Brett," said Tommy Mack, who owns Weirs the Beef, as he grilled a hamburger. "We have to have a full liquor license and pay property taxes." He said that the beer tents should not be allowed to open before the start of Motorcycle Week. "It's bad for the local businesses," he said.

Not all agreed. Chris Clark of the Crazy Gringo said she was somewhat surprised by the decision, but doubted it would have a significant impact on local businesses. "I just don't expect they'll be that busy," she said.

The council acted in response to Bill "The Boss" Niland, who owns the Chop Shop Pub in Seabrook and operates the beer garden at the Weirs Beach Drive-In during the rally, who claimed the timing of this year's rally would cause confusion. Every year, Motorcycle Week begins on the second full weekend in June, which most often means that it ends on the third Sunday of June — Father's Day. However, in those years like this one, when June begins on a Sunday, the rally begins rather than ends on Father's Day weekend.

However, Niland assumed that because this year's rally begins rather than ends on Father's Day, the dates of the rally had been changed. He wrote to the council recalling that when the rally last began on Father's Day weekend, in 2008, rally-goers booked rooms for the wrong week and, he claimed, have not returned. "Should this happen again this year," he warned, "I am in fear that it would be another nail in the coffin to an already declining event."

To address the problem, Niland suggested opening the Beer Garden, with entertainment, on Thursday and Friday, before the rally begins on Saturday, June 14. "This would at least those who attend on the wrong week a small taste of Bike Week events so that their vacation not be a total loss," he explained.

In a memorandum to the council, Planning Director Shanna Saunders, who chairs the Motorcycle Technical Review Committee/Special Events Review Committee, wrote "as we know from a few years ago when this happened, the change confuses the tourists that come up," adding the police found crowds on the first weekend were larger than on the last. She told the council that the committee approved Niland's request and recommended allowing the operators of beer tents at the Lobster Pound, Looney Bin, Broken Spoke and Marketplace to apply for special events permits to open on Thursday, June 12 and Friday, June 13.

However, Tom Pucci of the Grand View Motel & Cottages and former president of the Weirs Action Committee, said he could not recall significant numbers of rally-goers either booking rooms or arriving at The Weirs expecting Motorcycle Week only to discover they were a week or days early. He said that innkeepers routinely advise prospective guests of the dates of the rally, whether they want to attend it or avoid it. Moreover, he noted that patrons are also informed of the higher rates charged during the rally.

"It hasn't happened," he said flatly.

Nor could Karmen Gifford, executive director of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, which closely monitors bookings at hotels, motels and cottages before and during the rally, recall a situation like Niland described.

Loring said that he hopes the council will reconsider its decision. "When we want to go right, the city says go left and if we want to go up, the city says go down," he remarked, "but they do what this guy wants right away without even notifying local businesses."