LACONIA — It might seem as though the vendors who arrive for Laconia Motorcycle Week spring up overnight, but for them, the journey to Lakeside Avenue began a long time ago.
“I left Orlando on the first of June, got here on the fourth, started setting up today,” said Rafael Martinez, who since 2010 has been working with Motorcycle Rally USA, which sells T-shirts at multiple locations at Weirs Beach.
Martinez and his co-workers didn’t drive up from Florida for just Laconia’s rally. After this ten-day festival, he will go to Pennsylvania for Rumble in the Valley, then another rally in Memphis, Tennessee, and won’t be home until just before the Fourth of July.
“It’s like the roadie life, like a circus, we go from state to state. It’s not bad, you get to see new things, meet new people,” said Martinez.
Damian James, who came from Cleveland, Ohio, to ink bikers on Lakeside Avenue, used to live the “roadie life,” traveling from one motorcycle event to another to set up temporary tattoo parlors. Now, he only travels for Laconia.
It takes a bit of an effort to get “Tattoo Zoo” up and running for the ten-day rally, James said.
“We put down a new floor, build new walls, bring our entire studio over here for our shop,” he said, and they have to get the state to sign off on the operation. It’s worth it, though, he said, because Laconia Motorcycle Week offers a break from the usual.
“There’s a lot of business through here, a lot of people. A lot of us view this as a working vacation. I like it here,” James said.
And it isn’t just the visitors who have to prepare for Motorcycle Week, which will take place for the 95th year starting on Saturday. Travis Stillings, who performs maintenance work for all of the Half Moon properties at Weirs Beach – including a hotel and cottages, pizza shack, arcade and gift shop – said he needs to get all of the mowing, painting and general upkeep done before the rally begins.
“After Bike Week is done, we’re busy all summer, we can’t get anything done.”
At Half Moon Pizza, kitchen manager Steven Farris said Motorcycle Week represents about a third of the business’s yearly profits. But, due to his commitment to freshly-made dough, sauce and toppings, there’s only so much that can be done ahead of time. His fridges are full of product, he said.
“I’ll probably have to order more come Wednesday, if not sooner,” he said. He and his staff will easily sell more than 1,000 pizzas by the end of the rally. “I’ll have 100 (customers) deep in front of here all day long,” Farris said.
While Farris’ pizza place will serve a lot of people, that number pales in comparison to the volume seen on the grounds of the Laconia Roadhouse, a village of vendor tents and stages that appear on the grounds around Faro Italian Grille every Motorcycle Week. Overseeing all of it is Bob Wilson, whose official title is kitchen manager, but who transitions to become the lot manager for Motorcycle Week.
“It’s like you’re putting on a party for 20,000 people a day,” said Wilson, who was hustling around the lot on Thursday afternoon to make sure that every last piece was in place.
Wilson said he and the rest of the Faro management talk about Motorcycle Week all year long, but their planning starts in earnest in March, when he travels to Florida for Daytona Bike Week to meet with vendors. Things accelerate for Wilson until this weekend, when all of the wrinkles have all been finally ironed out.
Even after this weekend, Wilson will spend nearly every hour of the day working to make sure everything keeps on track. He’ll arrive at the Roadhouse at 7 a.m. and remain on scene until mid-afternoon, at which point he’ll cross the street to a trailer, where he will take a quick shower and put on some clean clothes so that he can help expedite the evening food service at Faro.
But he doesn’t mind, he said.
“It’s fun, I look forward to it,” Wilson said.