Myrtle Beach residents, business owners and police gear up for Memorial Day weekend

Motorcycles cruise Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach, Thursday evening after a heavy rainstorm as the Atlantic Beach Bikefest gets underway along the Grand Strand.
Motorcycles cruise Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach, Thursday evening after a heavy rainstorm as the Atlantic Beach Bikefest gets underway along the Grand Strand. cslate@thesunnews.com

The first traces of tourists heading to the Grand Strand for Atlantic Beach Bikefest are expected to hit town on Monday as the area says goodbye to those here for the annual Harley rally and gears up to host tens of thousands of new visitors.

Atlantic Beach Bikefest, which began in 1980 as a rally for black motorcyclists, doesn’t officially begin until 3 p.m. Friday and runs until 3 p.m. Monday. But the North Myrtle Beach City Manager Mike Mahaney said real estate companies in the area required visitors to commit to one-week rentals, meaning some in town for Bikefest are expected as early as Monday.

Horry County police Chief Saundra Rhodes said police will increase patrols on Monday as well, but don’t expect to see major crowds heading into the county until Wednesday.

Myrtle Beach police said they expect crowds to begin filtering into town on Thursday night and throughout the day Friday.

Grand Strand officials have put a series of plans in place to police Memorial Day weekend, which turned deadly last year. Three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach on Memorial Day weekend, when tens of thousands of people travel to the area for a three-day weekend at the beach or to participate in events like Bikefest.

Those plans include things like an increased police presence, a 23-mile traffic loop and educating residents on how to prepare for Memorial Day weekend.

Locals prepare for Bikefest

Residents and businesses are preparing for what they say has been an almost overcrowded weekend along Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach.

Jim Cartwright, who lives on 25th Avenue South near Ocean Boulevard, said he plans to stay in his home for the weekend.

“We go grocery shopping ahead of time and don’t come out the rest of the weekend – unless it’s during the day,” Cartwright said. “It’s too crazy out there. There are bikes all over the place. It’s so crowded.”

Cartwright, who’s lived in the area for 13 years, said he lives next to a vacant lot where people often park their cars – unauthorized.

“There are people parking all over the place and they do whatever they want over there – even use the bathroom,” he said. “If it was just the bikes, it wouldn’t be a problem. But all of the other people who come with their cars and start trouble, that’s the issue.”

Those of Cartwright’s neighbors on the south end of Myrtle Beach between Ocean Boulevard and Kings Highway who don’t stay indoors on Memorial Day weekend tend to leave town.

“We typically head out of town,” said Craig Teller, organizer of the South Myrtle Beach neighborhood watch group, when reached Thursday by phone. He said he’d just returned from Ireland. “I’m retired, so it’s a good time for a vacation. … We leave for both rallies, Harley and Memorial Day.”

Teller said neighbors who attended the most recent neighborhood watch meeting, held March 31, said they were taking different approaches to Memorial Day weekend.

“Based upon the last couple of years, people try to leave [during the motorcycle rallies], so a lot of people will be gone [Memorial Day weekend],” he said. “The people who stay hunker down and don’t go out much.”

Businesses also are bracing themselves to deal with the onslaught of customers filling their establishments, Oceanfront Merchants Association President Rick Sarver said.

“I don’t think anyone plans on closing earlier, if anything they’ll stay open a little later,” he said.

He said each business will handle Memorial Day weekend differently, though he expects most will add shifts to accommodate the crowds.

“But we always have good business that weekend,” Sarver said. “It’s a tough weekend simply because you go from there being no one in town to being slammed. I think overall it’s good for business, I really do. It’s those little instances you have that make the weekend look bad.”

Representatives from Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and Horry County all held a series of community meetings – with neighborhood watches like Teller’s group and business groups like the Oceanfront Merchants Association – to make sure residents know what to expect.

That includes seeing hundreds more police officers and taking time to the 23-mile traffic loop.

More visible police presence

Hundreds of additional officers will be heading to the Grand Strand to lend a hand patrolling on Memorial Day weekend.

All of Myrtle Beach’s officers – around 220 – will be working Memorial Day weekend as well as about 500 through mutual aide agreements.

Myrtle Beach police Chief Warren Gall said officers assisting the city include 280 state officers, 160 officers from other city and county jurisdictions, 39 constables and 14 federal agents. There also will be 170 private security officers assisting with the traffic loop.

Officers in Myrtle Beach will be assigned to patrol small areas of Ocean Boulevard, covering a four- to five-block area.

All 21 sworn police officers in Surfside Beach will be working this year, with 13 officers coming to town through mutual aid agreements.

The town saw a jump in tourists and traffic last year and are preparing for big numbers this year as well.

“We’re taking precautionary steps and planning based on being prepared for the increased number of visitors we have in town,” Surfside Beach Mayor Doug Samples said.

North Myrtle Beach has about 70 officers that will be working all weekend and 100 officers from about 25 outside agencies.

About 20 SLED officers and a number of Highway Patrol officers will be stationed in Atlantic Beach to help the town’s two-person full-time police force.

Three chiefs from across South Carolina also will help out on Memorial Day weekend.

Horry County also will have more officers on the streets dedicated to weekend patrolling, with a focus along U.S. 17 Business in Little River, Restaurant Row, Myrtle Beach and Garden City Beach, Chief Saundra Rhodes said.

About 60 Horry County officers will be dedicated to Bikefest patrolling, with about 45 state officers helping the county. This is the first time the county has requested additional help, Rhodes said.

Traffic loop

Officials say establishing a 23-mile traffic loop, in effect nightly Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., is aimed at keeping traffic moving, because congestion leads to “parking lot parties” that could lead to violence.

The loop routes drivers from 29th Avenue North on Ocean Boulevard south and around to Kings Highway, north to Harrelson Boulevard – which turns into George Bishop Parkway – west to Waccamaw Boulevard, which runs next to U.S. 501, onto S.C. 31 heading north to Grissom Parkway south, then onto U.S. 17 Bypass and down 29th Avenue North.

Sarver, who owns Boardwalk Coffee House, said his store typically closes at 10 p.m., but he will probably close a little earlier to help employees avoid being stuck in the traffic loop.

Some south Myrtle Beach residents said they are especially anxious about if and how the loop will work.

“I feel a little better because of the barricades,” Cartwright said, which he thinks will keep crowds from loitering the streets around his home. “It’s like we’re getting barricaded in here.”

Cartwright said he’s not worried about being able to get in and out of his home, and while he appreciates the barricades he worries that it punishes the residents.

“I feel like they get the freedom and I don’t,” he said. “I have to stay in my house, but I’m the one paying taxes here.”

But Teller said most of the residents in his neighborhood watch group recognize that something needed to be done to get control of the cars, trash and crowds around their homes.

“People are hopeful, but anxious,” he said.

Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or on Twitter @TSN_mprabhu.

Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest information online

Grand Strand officials have worked to have a uniform message for visitors traveling to down on Memorial Day weekend for Atlantic Beach Bikefest: be safe, have fun and follow the law.

Check out a roundup of websites where there is more information about plans on Memorial Day weekend and how those plans impact each part of town.

▪ Myrtle Beach website: www.cityofmyrtlebeach.com/bikefest.html

▪ Myrtle Beach Memorial Day Bikefest Facebook page: www.facebook.com/memorialdaybikefest

▪ Myrtle Beach Police Department Facebook page: www.facebook.com/myrtlebeachpolice

▪ Atlantic Beach website: www.townofatlanticbeachsc.com/bikefest.html

▪ Horry County website: http://horrycounty.org/BikeWeeks.aspx

▪ North Myrtle Beach website: www.nmb.us/newsFeedFront.aspx?feed=abbikefest

▪ Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce-run website: www.beachbikeweek.org

▪ Motorcyclist-run bike festival website: http://memorialbikefestival.com