During the island’s biggest tourist weekend of the year, Mike Bouvier closes up shop.
Bouvier learned that was the best option several years ago, after he stocked his freezers at Hey Mikey’s Ice Cream, 2120 Postoffice St., downtown for the weekend. Lone Star Rally, a four-day motorcycle event that annually brings upward of 350,000 to the island, logically seemed like it would be great for business, Bouvier said.
That business didn’t come, Bouvier said.
After several years of losing money during the yearly event, Bouvier decided to close the shop for this year’s rally to save money on overhead and cost of labor, he said.
“Bikers like beer,” Bouvier said. “They don’t like ice cream.”
Bouvier is far from alone in reporting slow business during the rally weekend. While much of the rally takes place on The Strand, Galveston’s historic tourist shopping street, a lot of the foot traffic stays outside the stores and in the roadways, where attendees can find dozens of vendors and thousands of motorcycles.
But other shop owners feel just the opposite, and those who sell beer out of their storefront windows said the weekend is great for business.
“As far as beer goes, this is the busiest weekend,” said Jason Sheaffer, owner of Old Strand Emporium on 2425 Strand. “It’s kind of our niche.”
Lone Star Rally is a boon for Galveston’s overall economy, said Sharon Damante, the event’s media liaison. The rally in 2016 contributed about $115.6 million to Galveston’s economy, and about $113 million of that came indirectly through retail, food and lodging spending, according to an economic impact study.
“This amount of money over four days is fabulous,” Damante said.
Rally organizers estimated that more than 250,000 motorcycles and 500,000 people would be on the island for the weekend this year. The event ends today.
Island hotels fill up almost entirely every year during Lone Star Rally, said Steve Cunningham, president of the Galveston Hotel & Lodging Association.
“It’s the busiest weekend of the year as far as hotels and rates,” Cunningham said. “They all do well for us.”
Boyce Pryor, manager of the boutique Tina’s Ladies Clothing & Home Décor, 2326 Strand, said her sales are lower during the weekend. Pryor typically earns some loyal customers who want to come back and spend at a later date, however, she said.
“Does the rally help me on Friday, Saturday, Sunday? No,” Pryor said. “Next week it may be crazy busy, because they see something they like and come back. We’ve made some of our best customers from the rally.”
Gracie’s, a gift boutique on 2228 Strand, finds that loyal customers don’t come out during the weekend because they can’t find parking, store manager Veronica Gonzalez said.
“It does slow business, because our regular customers are like, ‘Where do we park?’” Gonzalez said. “It gives us time to get ready for Christmas.”
Other businesses make up for a lack in sales by hawking beer out of storefront windows and doors. Tola Mo’ Bettah Market on 2208 Strand closes its store for the busiest rally days and opens a beer counter instead, manager Sarah Tavarez said.
“It kind of evens out,” Tavarez said.
Lonie Johnson, manager at C-Level Surf Shop on 2101 Strand, said she feels that the rally actually helps her business keep people employed during the fall, which is a slower season in tourist cities such as Galveston.
“I used to work on Seawall, and they used to lay everybody off in the fall,” Johnson said. “These events like Lone Star, they kind of keep the budget so we can afford people.”
Even if businesses aren’t benefiting from increased food traffic in the downtown district, that money usually gets to the business in some way because it’s all flowing through the local economy, Damante said. A waiter that receives extra tip money during Lone Star Rally would likely go spend that money somewhere else, for example, Damante said.
“All tourist destinations that do special events, they all use what’s called a multiplier effect,” Damante said. “That money keeps turning through the town.”
A few blocks from the main events, Proletariat Gallery & Public House, 2221 Market St., was experiencing slow business as well, co-owner Becky Major said.
“We’ve realized people aren’t here for art galleries and craft beer,” Major said. “It brings business to the island, so I’m totally cool with it.”