Businesses say it's too soon to assess impact of Hells Angels visit

Whatever the expected economic impact of this week's Hells Angels visit to Carlton County may have been, businesses in the vicinity of the headquarters at the Lost Isle reported varied reactions as of Wednesday.

Businesses around Carlton County have posted signs welcoming members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. Whether the visit will have a significant economic impact remains to be seen. [Lisa Baumann/]

Whatever the expected economic impact of this week's Hells Angels visit to Carlton County may have been, businesses in the vicinity of the headquarters at the Lost Isle reported varied reactions as of Wednesday.

The kitchen manager at Spirits Restaurant and Bar, who asked not to be identified was the most optimistic of the bunch.

"I'd say our business has increased around 15 to 20 percent since [the Hells Angels] started arriving in town," he said. "A group of them from Illinois have been in here something like four times in three days, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We've found them to be the nicest, most polite people. They've chatted with our wait staff and even with some of our customers, and they've been really excellent."

Jenny Sutherland, front desk clerk at the neighboring AmericInn Motel, reported that only two rooms had been rented thus far to members of the Hells Angels group, adding that they have not had any problems whatsoever with them.

"I think most of them are staying at Black Bear or the Lost Isle," she stated.


Cashier Mick Pease of the Carlton Travel Center, who just came on duty Wednesday, said he'd noted several members of the Hells Angels group coming and going throughout the day, purchasing candy bars, soda and gas.

"They've been just fine," he said. "We haven't had any problems with them."

Employees at nearby Tall Pine Liquor and the Junction Oasis Café admitted they haven't really seen any significant up tick in business since the first of the Hells Angels started arriving, however. In fact, they said business has actually been somewhat on the slow side at both businesses, speculating that the ramped-up law enforcement presence in the area may actually be a deterrent to business. One employee, who asked not to be named, said she believed that "all of the negative media frenzy" is likely keeping regular customers away as well.

Members of the Hells Angels were "checking in all day" Wednesday, according to Black Bear Casino Resort Marketing Manager Rocky Wilkinson.

"It's been really busy here," he said. "The majority of them are checking in tonight."

Farther down the road in downtown Carlton, Brandon Sell, who owns Third Base Bar, said overall business was down, but admitted there is usually a lull in business following Carlton Daze, the community celebration that took place last week.

He did say about a dozen Hells Angels members patronized his bar on Monday evening.

"After they came in I went over and introduced myself," he said. "I welcomed them and bought them their first round of drinks. They tipped well and were good to my bartender."


Local residents in the bar mostly did not approach the Hells Angels that night, although some from the club approached locals to ask questions similar to those asked by any tourist, according to Sell.

"The biggest thing I've heard from other local business people is that the law enforcement is getting in the way, stopping everyone for the littlest thing," he said. "It's good that they are staffed just in case. But, I'm expecting [business] to be slow."

Only a few Hells Angels were camping at the Cloquet KOA early this week, but they were "the nicest people," said owner Barbara Higton, just as a Carlton County Sheriff's deputy rolled through the campground.

Another owner, Linde Higton, said she thought the law enforcement presence was "too overboard."

"They're scaring people," she said.

Bob Higton disagreed, however.

"I'd rather have them go overboard," he said.

Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said while she understands the concerns of local businesses and does not want to negatively impact them, she has a job to do.


"Our number one concern is public safety," she said. "And we're using methods that have worked to keep the public safe at other past rallies. At this point we feel it is adequate. I'd rather take criticism for over-preparing any day."

As of Wednesday afternoon, law enforcement had only given out warnings and a handful of minor traffic citations near Lost Isle and said officers were only stopping Hells Angels and other motorists if they had violated a law.

"Our officers cannot stop motorists without probable cause," said Cloquet Police Deputy Chief Terry Hill.

Law enforcement officials predicted some 300 Hells Angels would be in the vicinity by Thursday and that the number could build through Saturday, likely the peak day of the event, before most leave for Sturgis, S.D. on Sunday. Although they don't have details, Hill said the club will hold their main events at Lost Isle on Friday and Saturday nights and that affiliated motorcycle clubs would likely be invited to attend them.

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