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Harley's Impact on the Community

Marti Mikkelson

Drive anywhere in Milwaukee starting Thursday and you’ll surely spot a motorcycle or two. Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebration begins.

Visit Milwaukee expects more than 130,000 people to arrive on two wheels. By Monday, most will have departed, leaving $20 million behind.

Crews closed an eight-block stretch of Layton Avenue Wednesday – from 60th to 68th Street. One of Milwaukee’s biggest dealers, House of Harley, spread out its birthday bash.

Nancy Chandler is wearing the uniform – a Harley t-shirt and black jeans, and visiting vendors who set up booths. They range from an attorney offering free legal advice, to a chiropractor.

Chandler says she rode her bike here from Indianapolis with a group of friends.

“Yesterday was too hot to do anything so this is our first day to venture out. We’re going to hit some of the dealerships and then when everything starts on the lakefront, we’ll be heading down that way,” Chandler says.

Chandler says she’s been spending money including at nearby Wendt’s Pub. Manager Sue Venus expects a profitable week, similar to what the bar raked in five years ago – at Harley’s 105th reunion.

“Most of the vendors or the regular businesses around here probably will see in this week what they’ll see in several months,” Venus says.

While Venus expects lots of business, one neighbor closed this week: Max Sass and Sons Funeral Home. Caretaker Dan Hayes is standing outside, watching the biker activity. So, what about his business? He says it’s referring visitations to other branches.

“People call and want to make an appointment to come here, then we redirect them to Franklin which isn’t that far or Oklahoma or Muskego depending on where they live. It’s not a loss of business, it’s just an inconvenience for the customer coming. If they live right here, they have to go to Franklin,” Hayes says.

In the meantime, the funeral home is allowing Harley riders to park in its lot. While Hayes takes the motorcycle fest in stride, it doesn’t thrill everyone. Bruce Vanderbunt delivers meals to elderly people living in condos a few blocks away.

“There are a few little annoyances because I have some stops around the House of Harley over there. I have to detour around it,” Vanderbunt says.

There will be inconveniences for motorists, according to Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. He says roads will close intermittently for street parties, including Canal Street on Saturday morning, for a parade of bikes to Miller Park.

“We’re going to have a large amount of motorcyclists descending on the Milwaukee area, utilizing the freeway system and that presents a different dimension for car drivers, so we’re really pressing the safety issues, watch out for motorcyclists,” Clarke says.

Clarke says deputies will also step up patrols on Lincoln Memorial Drive, when bands perform on the Summerfest grounds and vendors set up displays at Veterans Park.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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