Sunday's editorial considers the possibility that Myrtle Beach's efforts to control the motorcycle rallies last year might have gone too far.
Amid the radically altered landscape of this year's Harley-Davidson spring rally, the center of the party undeniably shifted down south to Murrells Inlet.
During the May rallies, the good folks at Suck Bang Blow and the Beaver Bar said their business was about as strong as any year during the second rally weekend, though business in the week leading up to it was painfully slow. With the dual challenges of a recession and a total crackdown by Myrtle Beach, that was probably about as good as they could hope for.
Even that attendance level, however, seems to have been too much for some Georgetown County residents. This month, the Georgetown County Council is considering reducing the number of vendor permits it issues to one per business, in hopes of lessening some congestion.
Our advice, after a year's worth of reflection on the sweeping changes enacted by Myrtle Beach, is to proceed with caution. Our area as a whole has undertaken a massive overhaul of its approach to visitors on motorcycles, the ramifications of which have yet to be fully realized.
This much is clear: Spurred to action by an undeniably tragic death during the rallies, Myrtle Beach city leaders made bold decisions acceding to the long-expressed wishes of many constituents. These decisions, however, could not have come at a worse time, as the country plunged headlong into deep recession. In the process, a city that once gloried in its own exuberant spirit now has, for some, the undesirable image of a destination that seeks to cherry-pick its visitors.
To be clear, we don't fault the Myrtle Beach City Council for decisions that, at the time, we vocally supported. The anti-rally moniker of "Mayhem" seemed to describe aptly the extremes to which the rallies had grown. It was in fact a local teen charged in the May 2008 slaying of a Coastal Carolina University student (proving the unpopular notion that the Grand Strand has its own crime problems without the rallies) but the circumstances of their confrontation was undeniably the events of a rally night. Enough truly seemed to be enough.
The bikers themselves undeniably shoulder a large load of the blame for the city's harsh reaction. Residents had publicly begged for years for shorter rallies, smaller rallies, quieter rallies - and yet the events grew every year, with little attempt by organizers to rein them in. Had the bikers themselves shown any respect for residents' wishes, it's possible a compromise could have been reached.
Further, we stand by our arguments at the time that Myrtle Beach has the right to dictate the conduct of people who visit according to the will of its residents, and many of the laws passed we still wholeheartedly support in their own right. The helmet law likely saved lives, for example, and the law restricting parking-lot loitering kept unruly crowds to a minimum.
Yet, rules any city passes should be constructive, not punitive, and in some cases, the city's actions strayed into the latter category. Its message to the public was unequivocal: "Effective 2009, Myrtle Beach, S.C. will no longer host motorcycle rallies," the front page of the city-sponsored Myrtle BeachBikerInfo.com still reads. The rally crackdown was detailed in media throughout the country, surely fostering for some an image of Myrtle Beach as intolerant of certain visitors.
It's difficult to say at this point what should be done next, and perhaps it's very little. Myrtle Beach's actions this year forced an evolution of the rallies into a form that everyone may be able to support: The spring Harley rally is now essentially a one-weekend event concentrated in Murrells Inlet, with a long, slow leadup and outlier destinations in Socastee, Longs and North Myrtle Beach. The Atlantic Beach Bikefest the following weekend grew this year within the tiny limits of its host town (where it retained its homecoming feel) and in North Myrtle Beach without any major problems reported.
Over time, Myrtle Beach may choose to soften its stance, keeping the laws that make sense on their own while altering some other approaches (Do we really need decibel meters at safety checkpoints, or want to outlaw traditional baseball tailgating?). If the rallies shrink to a true compromise, some Myrtle Beach residents may want to welcome back the rallies' revenue.
Georgetown County, meanwhile, does not appear to be on a path toward total alienation of the bikers; one bar owner, in fact, said she has "no issue" with the vendor-number limits. It's a nonconfrontational approach that, moving forward, both Myrtle Beach and the biker community might do well to study.