From The Editors: July 22, 2015
From the outside, Roar on the Shore looks like a hulking success.
From the outside, Roar on the Shore looks like a hulking success. Throngs of motorcyclists riding through Erie City streets, winding around Presque Isle, rolling throughout the County for more than half a week's worth of festivities. From staying in hotels in Erie to eating food in Erie to buying merch and memorabilia in Erie, all signs point to a five-day stretch during which the Erie economy now gets an annual booster shot.
But from the inside, what looks like — upon first glance — an economic boom for Erie and Erie businesses may not be the prescription for growth its label boasts. Because although this all happens in Erie, it may not be of Erie.
Yes, hotels are packed — some of which charge increased rates as much as a third higher than average to bikers and non-bikers alike because of the occasion. And yes, there's entertainment — from stunt bike demonstrations to hair-metal-meets-hip-hop-meets-hairier-metal. And yes, consumption is king: people eat, people drink, people buy stuff.
And thus, the people — the sellers, the buyers, the riders, the spectators, the visitors, the locals — should all be merry.
So when the last bike roars out of town as the sun sets on the Sunday evening, those of us left behind watching the exhaust fumes of the biker brigadoon vanish wave the victory flag and unfurl the banner declaring our success, celebrating the clear symbols that Erie does do something right: Erie hosts the largest motorcycle rally in this region, and it's growing.
Want proof of that growth? Look no further than 2014 when the Manufacturer & Builders Association tacked on an additional day, folding Wednesday into the festival to accommodate growth.
Think the M&BA lacks vision? M&BA President Ralph Pontillo told Erie Times-News' Ron Leonardi in a piece that appeared in Sunday, July 19's edition that he envisions the festival becoming a week-long affair.
Question whether City Officials and the community support it? The Mayor — who's been heavily criticized lately because of his preference to keep a low-profile in the wake of rampant gun violence but still leads the ceremonial parade into the City — noted that "so many people come into the community" adding that "after they come here the first time, we see they tend to come back, not only for this event but for other things."
President of VisitErie John Oliver credited the diversity of visitors, saying that he thinks "that's why it has such a good economic impact because it's spread out over all levels."
Is this too good to be true? Should we — even those who don't ride, those who hate the increased volume in both sound and space the fest brings to our streets, those who deliberately avoid downtown because of the scene created rather than become part of it — embrace Erie's ROTS because of cheerleaders congregating around it chanting economic development over and over again?
At least not yet.
Although the M&BA is clearly onto something — the festival's numbers swell each year and bikers do return to Erie — what can't be denied is that ROTS doesn't yet benefit all Erie businesses, especially the small locally-owned ones.
What's more, it actually harms some.
Look no further than Jim Wertz's feature in this current issue, in which he talks to several local small-business owners about their experience of competing against vendors who line State Street who aren't from Erie, about how the official wine for the festival isn't local, how tattoo artists and silkscreeners brought in specifically for the festival aren't Erie entrepreneurs.
What's missing most from Roar on the Shore is Erie.
If we're hanging our success of the return of bikers past and the arrival of first-time visitors because word of mouth, marketing, or social media spread to them, shouldn't we deliberately work to ensure they remember and talk about a great pad thai, a great falafel salad, and locally-made sub they had instead of a grease-soaked stick of mozzarella? Shouldn't they be able to show off tattoos done by local award-winning artists right here in Erie? Shouldn't local T-shirt companies make the products that will be walking billboards once they leave the city, enticing others to visit next year?
At least moving forward.
Because as the chapter closes on this year's ROTS, next year's is already being written; after all, 2016 will mark the 10th anniversary of the festival, and given the occasion and the recent success, expectations will be high. It's clear that the City and (a large portion of) the community embrace the festival, revs and all.
If we're going to herald Roar on the Shore as a true source of economic development and a strong injection of dollars into our local economy, those planning the festival need to embrace, highlight, feature, and include local businesses to increase their health and wellness — not those simply in Erie for a week looking to make a quick buck.