A quarter-century ago, marking the 50th anniversary of the Sturgis motorcycle rally, a man with a house a block off Main Street said he had just rented his place for $6,000.
“It will pay the property taxes for an entire year,” he said.
“So, you going to pay the taxes?” another person asked.
“Naw, I’m buying a big-screen TV,” he said.
If lodging demands for the 75th Sturgis rally now under way are any indication, Best Buy better stock up on flat-screens.
“We’ve always called the rally a ‘phenomenon,'” said Susan Johnson, CEO of Black Hills Central Reservations. “We need a new word for this one.”
Johnson’s booking engine and reservation staff have rented hundreds, if not thousands of accommodations for this year’s rally, if you count all the hotel and motel rooms, RVs, bed and breakfasts, and private homes it has booked. For the regional lodging reservation service, there’s never been a busier Sturgis rally.
“When you think of all the people who are coming in here, the intensity of this rally really started last weekend,” Johnson told the Rapid City Journal late last week. “Normally it would start tomorrow.”
But somehow, hundreds of thousands of visitors find a place to lay their heads. From hotels and motels to rental homes; from resort rooms to college dorms; from massive campgrounds to tenting in front yards; from formal motor home getaways to the makeshift RV park in the lot outside the Elks Golf Club in Rapid City — if there’s a will to rally, there’s a way to find a place to stay.
And even as late as Saturday afternoon, some online booking sites showed rooms still available at hotels in and around Rapid City, though premium pricing was the norm.
At least one Black Hills resident is known to have rented out their private home to rallygoers for $10,000, though the full arrangements were kept hush-hush.
There has never been such demand for private homes for rally visitors, Johnson said. A full 10 percent of the agency’s inventory was “double-booked” this year, meaning one set of renters came early and a second set would arrive mid-rally and stay until the end.
“There was such an early demand for the 75th,” she added. “From September through April we could not keep up with the demand for private homes. By April we had a glut of private homes, and even in the last two weeks, we’ve received five or six calls a week from private homeowners wanting to put their homes on the market.
“The closer it got to the rally, I think more people were thinking, ‘Hey, I’m getting out of town,'” Johnson said. “If we could have had those homes early, we could have sold them.”
As it is, the reservation service has hotel rooms still available from Hot Springs to Spearfish, most due to last-minute cancellations, she said. But hotel rooms are currently averaging $450 per night, but Johnson said her staff had seen a $200 to $800 range.
“We can always find hotel rooms,” she said. “The closer you get to Sturgis, the higher the price.”
An online survey of available lodging via web-giant Expedia late last week found the majority of hotel properties in Sturgis, Spearfish, Deadwood and Lead were sold out. But some rooms were still available.
Unlike previous rallies, Johnson said, RV sites with full hookups were at a premium this year.
“Full hookup RV spots have been the request we couldn’t accommodate,” she said. “Campgrounds have mowed massive fields to accommodate the increased demand for RVs, even without hookups. Thousands of RVs out there will be operating on generators throughout the rally.”
The most affordable accommodations in the Black Hills during rally may be found on the quiet summer campuses of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City and Black Hills State University in Spearfish. Both offer affordable lodging without the frills.
This rally, Mines rented 154 rooms and apartments in Peterson Hall and Rocker Square 1 at prices ranging from $100 to $500 per night with a four-night minimum stay, said school spokeswoman Fran LeFort. Room styles range from standard dorm rooms with community bathrooms to four-bedroom apartments with private bathrooms and a full kitchen. All are air conditioned, with linens provided and each package includes a full breakfast and a T-shirt, she said.
“Revenue from rally room rentals is used for upkeep and maintenance of the residence halls to help keep costs down for our students,” LeFort said.
For the 75th, Black Hills State is renting about 300 rooms to 400 bikers spread across five residence halls, said Mike Isaacson, BHSU’s dean of students and residence life. A contingent of more than 100 law enforcement officers also have taken lodging at the other end of the campus, he noted.
Prices range from $400 for four nights in a two-bed dorm room, to $2,420 for a couple weeks in a four-bed suite, according to the BHSU website.
“Every dollar we make off of rally stays within residence life,” Isaacson noted. “It’s an opportunity for us to pay some bills and do some things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, like build a new residence hall, buy some new furniture, or carpeting. Our students probably don’t even realize that it’s bikers who are helping us make life better here.”