The biker rally, one of the largest in the country, runs today through Sunday and is expected to bring tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to the Reno-Sparks area.
Street Vibrations officials project a $34 million boon to the local economy, based on a 2007 visitor study conducted by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA). The RSCVA has supported the rally through in-kind marketing initiatives and social media outreach campaigns.
While a similar event has come to Sparks every spring for the last three years, 2010 marks the first time that Victorian Square will play host to vendors, live music and festivities for the fall edition of Street Vibrations.
Incorporating Sparks as a major host has been a priority for Randy Burke, president of Roadshows, Inc., which produces Street Vibrations and other rallies across the country. He credits a good working relationship between city officials, event producers and sponsors as integral to growing the rally beyond downtown Reno.
“I’m not saying this to pay lip service, but we produce shows all over the U.S. and Sparks is the most user-friendly city as far as festivals are concerned,” Burke said. “Many times we find an adversarial approach with city service officials, but not in Sparks.”
Though he keeps his expectations high, Burke admits that it’s difficult to predict just how well the rally will go over.
“It’s kind of like throwing pasta against the wall to see what sticks,” he said, adding that promise of good weather always spells better fortunes.
Local business owners expressed similar tempered reactions.
“It’s hard for any of us to predict what will happen because this is the first of its kind,” said Irene Adams, co-owner of Paddy & Irene’s Irish Pub located in Victorian Square.
Adams and other business owners working in concert as the Victorian Square Merchants met Tuesday morning to discuss how best to generate customer traffic during Street Vibrations. The actual parameters of the rally extend only from 10th to 15th streets, between Victorian Avenue and C Street, leaving many local restaurants, bars and other small businesses on the outside looking in.
“One thing that was disappointing was that the organizer didn’t approach us to see how we could get involved this year,” said Jeremy Abts, owner of The Alley.
The collective of owners plans to place flyers and signs around Victorian Square directing visitors to their businesses. They said they would take a wait-and-see approach to the event and observe this year’s festivities as a kind of test case for how best to get involved in the future.
Nearly 100 vendors selling everything from food and motorcycles to patches and designer clothes will be on Victorian Square throughout the week.
While setting up shop Tuesday afternoon, some vendors expressed reticent expectations about this year’s event. Traditionally, these vendors have operated near downtown Reno, but the move this year to Sparks brought with it some trepidation.
“It kind of blind-sided us,” said Grizzly Taylor, a vendor selling sew-on patches with skull and crossbones designs and other biker culture insignias.
The 40-plus year veteran of the rally circuit laments the rising cost of doing business despite the poor economic climate in the country. While visitors to the rally squeeze their pocketbooks a little tighter these days, permit and booth fees have continued to rise, Taylor said. He has had to cut a few rallies in Florida and the East Coast out of his schedule as a result.
Tammy Wallace, whose Turning Headz clothing designs reflect the biker aesthetic, said that doing good business really comes down to the quality of merchandise being sold.
Wallace describes her business as a traveling boutique with wholesale prices. She said she would attend nearly 40 road shows this year, not including those in her hometown of Phoenix.
Though Wallace has seen a noticeable decrease in attendance numbers at rallies, she said those in the biker community support each other by buying locally produced products like her own.
“It’s like one big family,” she said.
Some area business owners, however, are downright upset about Street Vibrations coming to town this week. David Gonzalez and Victoria Rodriguez, owners of Inca, a snack shop, and Victoria’s, a beauty salon, closed their businesses for the week after a driveway leading to their customer parking spaces was blocked by vendors associated with the rally. Their business shares parking with a lot that is owned by John Ascuaga’s Nugget, which is using the lot for various Street Vibrations activities.
“We just want to be able to work with no problems,” Gonzalez said.
Because the vendors have proper permits, there seems to be no recourse for Gonzalez and Rodriguez.
Police Lt. Chad Hawkins, who is charged with overseeing security operations for special events in the city, said the Sparks Police Department will increase the number of patrol units this weekend when the largest crowds — upward of 5,000 to 7,000 visitors per day — will attend the rally. Horse-mounted officers, bicycle officers and surveillance teams will be present as crowd-control measures.
Hawkins said the Sparks debut of this week’s Street Vibrations presents a few unknown qualities.
“I’m just not sure what to expect,” he said.
For a full event schedule, visit www.road-shows.com/street_vibrations.php.