LACONIA — Several Weirs Beach business operators had an emphatic message for the City Council ON Monday: Don’t cancel Motorcycle Week.
The event, which normally takes place during mid-June, was postponed to Aug. 22-30 due to concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. The council voted for the two month delay in late April when the state was still in the throes of the COVID-19 crisis.
The anxiety on the part of businesses and private citizens was prompted by Councilor Bob Hamel’s request for a discussion at the meeting about the annual event that draws thousands of people to the Laconia area and other parts of the state.
Many told the council that they were forced to juggle reservations in order to accommodate motorcycle enthusiasts after the event was moved to August, and that the cancellation of the event would be devastating to those businesses which rely on customers during Motorcycle Week for a large part of their income.
“Dozens and dozens of businesses are depending on this revenue,” Jose DeMatos, owner of the Channel Cottages said.
The council voted at its meeting on April 27 to delay the nine-day event. And the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association was poised to make the same decision a few days later.
“You beat us to the punch,” Charlie St. Clair, the association’s executive director said when he called in to Monday’s meeting, held by remote teleconference.
St. Clair said the attendance during this year’s event would likely fall short of the turnout of 250,000 to 325,000 bikers in previous years.
He noted that while Motorcycle Week was being scrutinized, there was no concern being raised over crowds of visitors at other times.
“Are motorcyclists more of a threat than people coming up from Massachusetts for the Fourth of July?” he asked.
“Why, having made a decision to postpone the event, are (you) questioning that decision? said Leslie Schuster, owner of Lazy E Motor Inn on Weirs Boulevard. “What’s changed?”
Hamel, who had requested the topic be placed on the agenda, said while New Hampshire has done a “tremendous job” flattening the curve of new COVID-19 infections and deaths, “other areas around us have had a tough job.”
He added he was worried that too many people no longer seem to be taking the virus seriously. He said he was appalled by what he saw when he visited Hampton Beach this past weekend.
“I didn’t see anyone walking along the beach with a (face) mask and practicing social distancing,” he said. “The place was packed.”
Hamel noted that all the fairs in the state have been canceled, as has the Seafood Festival in Hampton Beach and the Highland Games in Lincoln.
“It’s out there. COVID is not going away,” Hamel stressed. “It’s our job to have a discussion on this. When we set the August date (for Motorcycle Week) it was a tentative date.”
Hamel and other councilors said the city would be looking to Gov. Chris Sununu’s Office for guidance on what to do as Motorcycle Week draws nearer.
Like Hamel, Councilor David Bownes said the council and other city officials need to remain vigilant.
“It’s our responsibility to pay attention to this,” he said.
Mayor Andrew Hosmer asked that the subject continue to be placed on the council’s agenda for the foreseeable future.
“COVID is a variable that we don’t have complete control over,” he told the council. “It’s going to affect the economy and public health,” he added, “Our obligation is to the economy and our taxpayers. But we are also accountable to those who are most vulnerable,” he said referring to the city’s elderly residents who are among those most susceptible to the COVID virus.
At a news conference Tuesday, Sununu emphasized that COVID-19 remains a serious threat to the state.
“We have a COVID crisis,” he said, “not a COVID problem, not a COVID issue.”
State epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said, “COVID is still here and remains a risk around our state.”
Sununu said the COVID would continue to be a serious threat for the next few months and maybe until the end of the year.
Hosmer said he would be looking to the state to provide data in the coming weeks so the council can make the right decision.
“As much as we want to wish this away COVID is with us,” Hosmer said, adding that the challenge facing the council is finding the proper balance between the concerns of local business people and the need to protect public health.