Guest View: Hollister without a motorcycle rally – 4 years and counting

Rally attendees check out the line of bikes during a custom motorcycle competition in 2008.

It took me a while to sit down at my desk and write about how I felt about our fourth year without a rally. How does one stay upbeat and positive while they watch the number of visitors to Hollister shrink exponentially every year without our famed motorcycle rally? I’ll confess for me it is a huge struggle. I admit that Johnny’s is very well the hardest hit by the loss but I know that our community as a whole suffers because of it.

I’m so grateful for Mike at Corbin for his huge efforts every year to give people a reason to come to Hollister despite our city council’s irrational decision not to have a rally. Mike’s annual open house draws more than 5,000 motorcyclists by providing a destination where this year more than 30 vendors set up shop for free. Yes, you heard me right, FREE. I visited with him on Saturday June 30th early in the morning and he said that at the rate things were going he might break his record for the most custom seats sold in one day. Good for you Mike, you certainly deserve it. I asked him why he didn’t charge his vendors; I was capitalizing on the opportunity myself with a booth selling Johnny’s collectibles, and he said, “I like offering a free event. The vendors set up for free and the participants can come and enjoy the day for free. If a few folks figure out where I’m located and I sell some seats in the process it’s even better.” He is a humble and gracious man and I’m thrilled to say that I later found out that he did indeed break his one-day sales record.

It brings me to question, “Why would anyone make the trek to Corbin’s on his busiest day of the year and wait in line all day to have a seat built?” I’ll tell you why. Tradition loving bikers want to come to Hollister to celebrate our heritage as The Birth Place of the American Biker. They enjoy gathering together and showing off their pride and joy two-wheel marvels with fellow bikers. The comradeship is like nothing I’ve witnessed in any other group of people.

In my seventeen-plus years at Johnny’s I’ve come to cherish and embrace this circle of friends. The Boozefighters Motorcycle Club; one of the first ones originated well before the explosion of the one-percent clubs, has called Johnny’s home since some of their members drove their motorcycles through my bar with the owner’s permission in 1947. Johnny Matalitch was concerned that one of the boys had had too much to drink and didn’t want him riding his bike in that condition. He told him, “Park your bike in the corner and take a rest. Don’t think about driving that thing until you’ve slept off some of that booze.”Now we park their motorcycles on the patio and call them a cab.

He recognized then what I know today; these are the greatest bunch of people you will ever want to meet. They are courteous, respectful and love spending their money in their favorite places. I’m thrilled that the Boozefighters continue to come to Hollister every year on Fourth of July weekend. Without them this year I would truly have lost my mind over the absurdity of not having a motorcycle rally. Sadly not many of the Corbin visitors made their way downtown. After visiting the open house most of them jumped right back on the freeway and drove off into the sunset. Many that stayed in Hollister thoroughly enjoyed their visit and capitalized on the inexpensive round trip cab rides from their hotels; thank you Hollister Taxi.

Every year around April people begin calling Johnny’s inquiring about what is happening in Hollister on the Fourth of July weekend. For now all I can suggest to bikers is the Corbin one day event, the Top Hatters annual poker run and our schedule of entertainment. If I had a dollar for every person that told me they thought our city’s government officials were foolish for not having a rally I could retire and not worry about the lack of a rally. It’s not just about the loss of revenue though. It’s the humiliation of being a town that fails to honor and embrace a distinction that no other city has and many would give anything to possess. You can’t rewrite history. It’s our heritage and it should be celebrated, capitalized on and enjoyed.

“Why can’t the city make money on the rally,” I’m constantly asked. My response is always the same, “It all comes down to the law enforcement bill. A reasonable budget would in no way put safety at risk and would make a successful rally attainable and give our city a much needed economic boost.”

This year for the first time we will have the opportunity to vote for a mayor in Hollister. In a county that touts an unemployment rate of 22.9%and is going broke the top priority should be stimulating our economy. Our motorcycle rally did just that all year long. It made us a tourist destination and without it there is very little to draw people to town. If surveys are correct and 80 percent of Hollister residents want our rally back, I’d say our new mayor must be pro-rally and pro-growth. No candidate will get my vote without being both.

Charisse Tyson is owner of Johnny’s Bar & Grill.

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