Keeping the Sturgis rally clean

A customer doing laundry at the Sturgis Laundry and Dry Cleaning. Photo courtesy of Clark Sowers.
[ – 2021.08.10] STURGIS, S.D (KELO) — A lot of dirty laundry passes through the laundromats owned by James “Clark” Sowers during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Sowers said the week of the rally and the days before and after are his “13th month” meaning that the amount of laundry and receipts during the rally is similar to a month’s work.

Even members of biker gangs want clean laundry, Sowers said.

“Gangs come in and they will wash, dry and fold their clothes. They care about clean clothes,” Sowers said.

As of Aug. 10, Sowers said operations are up 12% to 15% during the first week of the rally, which started on Friday, Aug. 6 and ends on Aug. 15. “The next two weeks will be quite telling,” Sowers said of how busy the laundromats are.

Sowers tracks the laundry done each rally in measurements of cash in, cash out, number of bags washed and number of pounds washed.

The coronavirus caused fewer people to attend the 2020 rally but the numbers were still decent, Sowers said. He’s grateful there was a rally.

Customers use the Sturgis Laundry and Dry Cleaning this week. Photo courtesy of Clark Sowers.
Two stages of rally laundry

“A big portion of our (rally) customer base is vendors,” Sowers said. “We don’t see vendors the week of the rally but see them the week before and the week after.”

Sowers also described the laundry demand as in two waves.

“The first half of the rally is the first wave in the first week,” he said. “People want their clothes cleaned when they get here or cleaned for the trip home.”

The second wave happens later in the rally when new arrivals come to Sturgis. It’s the same process of clothes cleaned when they arrive or clothes cleaned before the trip home, Sowers said.

He does have a rule. Customers can’t bring in wet laundry to dry, they must wash the laundry on site.

“Some people think we are ripping them off,” Sowers said. The wash requirement is not so he can make more money it is to protect all customers.

The businesses will charge a minimum rate for a bag of laundry. A bag of laundry could be three pounds or even 15 pounds.

Through Aug. 8, the Sturgis site did 1,100 pounds of bag wash, Sowers said. It did 357 pounds on Monday, Aug. 9.

The 2015 rally was the 75th anniversary and it set a record attendance of nearly 750,000.

Sowers recalled a Monday night thunderstorm that drenched the area.

“The rain was good for business,” he said. People came to wash and dry clothes.

All that laundry created a three-hour wait for the dryers.

The rally is a boon for business but the summer also includes rodeos, general tourism and other events.

The summer activity means something will need to get washed, Sowers said.

“The entire summer has been very good in laundromats and dry cleaning as people want to come to South Dakota and rodeo cowboys and pipeliners in the northern hills have returned,” Sowers said.

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