Some stunning news that Custer Senior Center officials had known since November became public last week when it was announced that Harley-Davidson, after seven years of doing business in Custer during the annual Custer Cruisin’ and Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, had opted not to return to Custer in 2019. The reason? According to senior center officials—declining sales and Custer’s failure to “embrace the Rally.”
While it may very well be true that Harley may have experienced a decline in sales, we can’t agree with them that Custer doesn’t embrace the Rally. Custer businesses, the Custer Area Chamber of Commerce and the majority of Custer residents welcome bikers to town with open arms every August. Perhaps Harley is blaming its declining sales on Custer, when that’s just the reality of the way things are right now. Sometimes when things are going bad, a scapegoat is needed. Is it possible that the city has become Harley’s scapegoat?
The city narrows Mt. Rushmore Road to one lane of traffic in each direction to accommodate center lane parking for bikers during the Rally. Several volunteers stand outside in the heat dressed up in period dress to welcome bikers to town with waves, curtseys and tips of the cap. We haven’t seen a personalized red carpet rolled out like that in any other town in the Hills. From the moment bikers hit town, they are literally told, “Welcome: We want you here.” The city even has a committee that has the full-time task of working on how to improve the biker experience for those who come to town.
So what can be done differently? A lot of things have already been tried. The Custer Cruisin’ Committee has tried to arrange both nighttime and daytime entertainment for the bikers. Next to nobody watches it. The Rally in Custer is a kinder, gentler crowd. The bikers who come here don’t seem to want blaring music and copious amounts of beer. Most of them are long gone shortly after the sun sets. It’s reality. There has also been organized bike shows, trick riding demonstrations and riding safety demonstrations that all had minimal attendance and fizzled out or fell by the wayside for one reason or another.
Much has been made about the lack of vendors on 6th Street. That’s a debate that will never go away. For every business owner who welcomes the vendors, there is one that wants them gone entirely. Some think they steal business. Some think they block entry into their store. The vendors think there should be more vendors and that they are charged too much for the vendor space. Vendors used to cover both sides of 6th Street. Now, a handful of vendors is all that remains. It’s our belief that the vendors create the look that “something is going on here” and makes bikers want to stop and walk around. Some disagree with that and think they will stop regardless. We may be on the verge of finding out who is right.
Custer isn’t perfect when it comes to the Rally, but no town is. We are a short ride from everywhere, and some of the best riding is here in the Southern Hills. Custer goes to great lengths to welcome bikers to town. To say otherwise is false. There may be things we can do better. But we give it our best.
Oh, and if you have better ideas, the Cruisin’ committee is always looking for volunteers.