Bikefest changes expected to attract bigger crowd

It's one bike rally down and one to go for the Grand Strand.

The Harleys are gone and bikers are already starting to show up for Atlantic Beach's Memorial Day weekend Bikefest.

The town made changes this year to attract a bigger crowd and people who have been coming to Bikefest for years think it's working.

That includes Johnnie Jordan of Loris, who spent Monday setting up a booth for this weekend.

He's been a Bikefest food vendor for 25 years.

Jordan says the last few festivals have been so-so for business, but he expects this year to be better.

"They got a new administration in office right now, so everything's kind of picking back up with the new administration and stuff, so it'll be pretty fair this year," said Jordan.

Atlantic Beach's new mayor, Jake Evans, and the town council lowered the vendor fees this year.

Also, for the first time in several years, vendors will be allowed to set up on 31st Ave. South, instead of just on 30th, which is considered the main street for the festival.

The event's hours have been extended, from 2 a.m., to 4 a.m., and more entertainment has been added.

All of that is aimed at increasing attendance.

A.J. Patel's Sunrise and Sun Fun motels in Myrtle Beach are sold out for Bikefest weekend.

"I think nearly everyone is," said Patel. "And then we get people coming in and looking for rooms at the last minute, so everyone I think will be sold out this year."

That's in contrast to the Harley Rally, which Patel says used to be much better.

There have been fewer Harley bikers in recent years, he says, and the ones who do come avoid Myrtle Beach because of the city's failed attempt to pass a helmet law a few years ago.

"I think they tend to stay in North Myrtle (Beach) and the Surfside area now," Patel said.

Patel added that Bikefest is better for him now than the Harley rally.

And Jordan says, Bikefest is on the upswing.

"It's kind of making a comeback, from the past two or three years, it's making a comeback."

Atlantic Beach town manager William Booker told WPDE NewsChannel 15 the town is working on collecting data on Bikefest's economic impact on the area.

He says the town wants to use the information to attract more business sponsorships to the festival.

Bikefest officially begins at 3 p.m. Friday and ends at 3 p.m. Monday.