LACONIA — Motorcycle Week will go on as planned in August, but it will look a lot different, following a decision by the City Council.
By a 5-0 vote the council on Monday passed a resolution that it would work with the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, which is promoting the event that will take place Aug. 22-30. However, many of the features which have become part of the annual event that draws droves of motorcyclists and onlookers to Weirs Beach will be absent because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the plan approved by the council, vendor booths will be banned. The only exceptions will be for the Motorcycle Week Association, and certain local non-profits.
“We’re moving ahead,” Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Motorcycle Week Association said after the vote. “Thinks will look different,” he conceded. “But people (who rely on the event) will be thrilled they will be able to move on.”
Mayor Andrew Hosmer said before the vote that the council was trying to strike a balance between the economic concerns of local businesses which rely on the event for a large part of their income, and the need to safeguard public health.
Experts say the virus is easily spread in large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for people to keep their distance from each other.
Some Weirs Beach business owners told the council that tourists are already coming to the area during the summer vacation season and it would be unfair to penalize local businesses by taking a stand against Motorcycle Week.
Jose DeMatos, who along with his wife, Stacie, operates the Weirs Channel Cottages and Weirs Beach Convenience and Gifts, said the economic benefit to the area is critical because of the economic effects of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
“We lost (business in) all of April, all of May, and most of June,” he said. “Having Motorcycle Week in August will be a huge shot in the arm,” he added.
“Motorcycle Week won’t look anything like it has in the past 96 years,” DeMatos said.
The lack of vendors will be a big change, he acknowledged. But DeMatos said the reason motorcyclists keep coming to the area is because of the beauty of the lakes and the mountains, “not to buy a T-shirt and go to a beer tent.”
St. Clair noted that although there will be no vendor tents in Weirs Beach, vendors will be set up in Meredith at Laconia Harley Davidson. In addition, the annual arts and crafts festival will be taking place there on Aug. 29 and 30, the rally’s finale.
DeMatos said while he has rented space on his property on the Weirs Beach roundabout to vendors in years past, he will not take a big financial hit from the ban. But he acknowledged it will be a different story for those who own property in and around Lakeside Avenue on the other side of the Weirs Channel.
Carl Pellerin, quartermaster of the New Hampshire Veterans Association, which owns a complex of Victorian gingerbread buildings which once served as a summer retreat for Civil War veterans, said Tuesday it was “up in the air” whether the association would be able to rent space to vendors this year.
“We won’t know until the city tells us what 'nonprofit' means,” Pellerin said
The council said that “Laconia-specific nonprofits” would be allowed to have booths. City Councilor Tony Felch said the nonprofit organizations he was thinking about in requesting the exemption were the Laconia Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club and the VFW.
The Veterans Association, which is a legally recognized nonprofit, usually rents out its frontage along Lakeside Avenue to one or two businesses, which in turn sublet space to other vendors. Pellerin declined how much the association makes from the rent.
St. Clair said that, for some property owners, the amount is substantial.
“When people say they pay their property tax with what they make this week, they’re not kidding,” he said, underscoring Motorcycle Week's economic impact for many people.
Hosmer said the city is taking public health concerns surrounding Motorcycle Week very seriously.
“Local and statewide public health experts have recommended Laconia Motorcycle Week at least be significantly curtailed in light of the possibility of COVID-19-positive persons visiting Laconia and the difficulty in establishing and enforcing social distancing and quarantine protocols consistent with CDC guidelines and Governor Sununu’s emergency orders.”