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Motorcycle Rally Anger Boils Over in Myrtle Beach, SC; Hotels Lost Millions

By Lorena Anderson, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 21, 2009--What was billed as a chance to vent anger over the city of Myrtle Beach turned into a call for electoral revolution Wednesday afternoon.

"The only way we're going to change this is to change the City Council," business owner Don Emery told a few hundred people who gathered at Revolutions dance club for an afternoon open forum.

Emery, who co-founded Help Eliminate Lousy Politicians for Myrtle Beach, called the forum so people could talk about how the smaller-than-usual motorcycle rally last week affected their businesses or livelihoods.

Lil Willburn, who works at one of Emery's bars, The Dog House, said that after her husband died last year, she lost her health insurance and was depending on revenue from the Harley-Davidson Cruisin' the Coast spring rally to restore her health coverage.

"I made $30 for a whole week of hard work," she said. "Why are we chasing away the biggest moneymaker, with no plan to take its place?"

The more than a dozen people who spoke at the forum echoed the belief that the city of Myrtle Beach does not care about small business owners who depend on the nearly half-a-million people who come to the Grand Strand every May for the Harley-Davidson Cruisin' the Coast and Atlantic Beach Bikefest rallies.

"Hotels lost millions of dollars last week," Emery said.

After years of complaints from locals about the noise, traffic, reckless driving and lewd behavior during the rallies, the city last fall passed ordinances aimed at curbing the rallies and ran advertisements indicating Myrtle Beach no longer wanted to be the epicenter of the events.

The city's efforts succeeded in noticeably dampening last week's tourism. Myrtle Beach hotels, restaurants and bars that usually are packed in May were quiet last week, and many don't expect things to be different this weekend during Bikefest.

Mayor John Rhodes said there were no complaints from residents this year about the Harley rally, which was still held in Horry County.

"Those who rode through the city did so with the respect we have asked them to," he said this week. "When you show respect, there's no one here who has a problem."

When it comes to lost business this year, he said, the local business owners share in the blame.

"When you protest and start telling people not to spend a dime in '09, you can't then complain when your business is down," Rhodes said.

Much of the anger is focused on Rhodes, who's up for re-election this fall along with council members Randal Wallace, Chuck Martino and Wayne Gray.

Emery and others said they do not have a specific game plan yet, but Emery said he will likely be a candidate for the council, and he and others are looking for a slate of candidates for all four seats.

"We didn't ask for what happened last week," Revolutions owner Craig Smith told the crowd. "We were just victims. ... But we have to do something."

He urged people to register to vote and leveled strong words at Rhodes.

"A lot of us supported John Rhodes," Smith said. "He turned on us and pretty much stabbed us."

Others called for the ouster not only of the four council members up for re-election this fall, but for the rest of the seven-member council, city manager Tom Leath and city attorney Tom Ellenburg.

Founders of the nonprofit Business Owners Organized to Support Tourism also attended, said they'd like to join forces with HELP for Myrtle Beach and urged people to join both groups.

Smith also urged people to work together to be heard.

"I think by what happened last week, it's obvious we need these tourists," said Bruce Kligman, owner of Klig's Kites. "You can't tell people not to come here when your town is based on tourism."

Contact LORENA ANDERSON at 444-1722.

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To see more of The Sun News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

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