The Eaglerider store on west Route 66 has not been open long – but their Harley Davidson motorcycle rentals have bookings months in advance. A Harley rider for 33 years, store manager Jim Enenkel has been running things there for just a few months – and has come in handy that he is originally from Germany. Enenkel says that around 40 percent of his customers are from Europe – particularly Germans, a percentage that is growing. Many of his one-day rental customers take a Harley day trip on an emotional whim – they see the shop, hit the brakes, walk in and rent right there and then. The weather is a big topic of conversation at Enenkel’s store, and many out-of-state-ers are surprised by the mountain weather. And although Eaglerider recommends the use of helmets, providing them with the bikes, many Europeans enjoy the freedom that comes with the lack of a helmet law – even if they only take advantage of it for short stretches. Along with the Grand Canyon, Enenkel says these Harley cruisers are looking for interesting locations to ride. Day trips to Jerome are very popular because of biker bars, old mines and windy roads en route. But the biggest attraction is riding Route 66 – the historic “Mother Road.”
Sleety rain is falling as Rolf and Ralph Bachmann – a holidaying father and son from Stuttgart, Germany – visit Eaglerider after a hearty breakfast across the street in the Galaxy Diner. Although they rented their bikes in Los Angeles and are mid-tour via Laughlin, Kingman and Seligman, they’ve stopped off in Flagstaff to get one essential item they didn’t think to pack – waterproof jackets! As they buy rain gear, they explain that riding Route 66 is the big draw for them. They add that retro stops like Galaxy Diner are what they really like – and that more period-style motels and diners would definitely boost the trip’s attractiveness. As Rolf and Ralph roar off on their hired Hogs, Sebastian Taveau, a Frenchman living in California, shows up with his dad, Jean, who’s visiting from France. This father and son duo are planning a Harley day trip out to Gallup and back, leaving the rest of his family behind in the minivan. Why? “As a fifth generation biker, riding a Harley Davidson on Route 66 is an essential check mark on your list of things you have to do,” Sebastian said.
Kingman-based author Jim Hinckley agrees. He sees Route 66 as having a catalytic effect on tourism. With his latest book Ghost Towns of Route 66 just out and his Route 66 Encyclopedia and Atlas due to be published in summer 2012, Hinckley describes the historic road as a cross between an authentic time capsule and a Disneyland attraction. He says that while it’s typically not economically viable to spend $1 million to restore a historic hotel, on Route 66 it’s the opposite; people flock there! And at numerous locations along the historic highway, there is plenty of evidence of a revival in full swing. Albuquerque is cashing in with a number of successful historic motel refurbishments. Hinckley quotes other examples such as the Wagonwheel Motel in Cuba, Mo., where after restoring the original period appearance and adding wifi and other modern conveniences, is now booked up weeks in advance. “Its not just motels,” Hinckley added, “in Afton, Okla., an old gas station and body shop, bought and renovated to its original state is now getting 4,000 visitors per month during the summer.”
So is there more that Flagstaff businesses could do to benefit from a revamping of the historic Mother Road? A lot more, according to John Graham, former county program coordinator with the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative (SEDI). Graham is keen to publicize the financial help available after an inventory along the entire Route 66 by the National Parks Service led to 26 of Flagstaff’s original Route 66 motels being made eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Significant federal, state and city grants and tax incentives are available to owners, says Karl Eberhard, who works for the City of Flagstaff. Eberhard wonders why Route 66 motels are even trying to compete with the modern I-40 modern chain establishments when they could create their own new market niche. Both Eberhard and John Holmes, chair of the “Greening the Bottom line Task Force” for SEDI, find it amazing that nobody is taking advantage of this opportunity, especially despite a major push three years ago to encourage motel owners to get on board. Holmes says that there are great possibilities for combining renovation of these historic properties with sustainable business practices, making historic restoration both environmentally and historically beneficial.
Meanwhile, on a mission to convince locals of Route 66’s potential for a retro revival, John Graham has been touring town with a slide show. His presentation features scanned images from the postcard collection of John DeGraff – original images of Route 66 motels are contrasted with modern photos of the same locations. The differences are stark. In Route 66’s heyday, a traveler reaching Flagstaff would find an oasis of cool – culturally and literally. Chic motels replete with lawns and pools competed for business with a retro charm and the aid of flashing neon signs like that of the Western Hills Motel (recently restored with help from the city). It’s a far cry from the current dilapidation of today’s budget motels vying with one another to offer the lowest weekly rates. Graham points out that Flagstaff now has a double opportunity – a revival in Route 66 nostalgia and the abolition of train horn noise – so that once again a Route 66 motel can offer a good night’s sleep. Graham says it is a “perfect storm for a tourism revival.”
Back at Eaglerider, as tourist Sebastian Taveau prepares for his Harley day ride, he explains that his family picked Flagstaff because there are more things to do than in other towns along the historic highway. But he adds that more 66 retro-style motels and diners would definitely make the town a more attractive destination.
“People want to feel like they’ve gone back in time when they’re on Route 66,” store manager Jim Enenkel concluded, as he got the French duo on the road. FBN
For more information about Route 66 motel restoration grants and tax incentives, contact Karl Eberhard at the City of Flagstaff, phone: 928-779-7632, ext. 7268; firstname.lastname@example.org.