Less is more on Highway 34: Nellie’s Saloon and Mercantile popular spot for locals, tourists

Eye on KELOLAND

ENNING, S.D. (KELO) – The 81st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has officially come to an end. People from all over travel there by interstate, but some bikers travel along a beaten path to get to the town. This includes Highway 34. And when they do take this route, a local bar and grocery store are waiting for them just 50 miles outside of Sturgis.

When traveling through South Dakota to get to the Black Hills or Sturgis, many people take the interstate. But Highway 34 is another option that some have grown to love.

“It’s the most scenic road, I think in most of South Dakota. It’s got prairies and rivers and hills and it’s a great ride if you’re going by bike,” Caren Assman, owner of Nellie’s Saloon and Mercantile said. “And it’s a good drive, the traffic’s not overly heavy and there’s a couple three stops along and you can pull right into Sturgis.”

And along Highway 34 in the small community of Enning, South Dakota sits Nellie’s Saloon and Mercantile. A stop there has become tradition for some bikers headed to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

“Well, this is a place we usually stop on our way to town to have a drink so,” biker James Elbert said.

Nellie’s owner Caren Assman started her business journey in Enning eight years ago, but this spot has a history that goes back 75 years.

“It used to be known as the Enning store, and it was a gas station and a creamery and then a grocery store and a bar,” Assman said. “I came along about eight years ago and I was looking for an opportunity for a retirement investment and Nellie’s just looked like it might be the ticket. So I took a chance and the community has been, and has always been, very supportive.”

Assman says the locals drive her business.

“Groceries or a restaurant are 50 miles away so we draw from a fifty mile radius all the way around us,” Assman said. “I get folks who wouldn’t otherwise get to go out for a meal. They come down and have walleye or have our marinated steak tips and I sell a pretty good burger if I do say so myself.”

“It’s a very good place to eat and it’s so nice to have it here because there’s nothing for so many miles. Otherwise it’d be sack lunches for us,” Joel Afdahl from Faith, South Dakota, said.

And it’s the locals who inspired the western theme of the saloon too.

“I mean, they are cowboys,” Assman said. “They ride and rope all the time and we have famous bareback riders and bull riders close by who stop in often. And so I kind of like that western theme where they feel comfortable. And obviously the tourists who come through feel like it’s a little bit of the past right here alive and well.”

Assman wanted to make Nellie’s a special destination for people in the area. That’s why she has activities like a ‘spin to win’ wheel and a corner for music. Throughout the year she hosts different events and fundraisers as well.

“I built it for the community,” Assman said. “And that’s, I really believe in that the community has to have a strong place to get together. Whether it’s an anniversary or a birthday party or a wedding or a bachelor party, I mean, folks like to come together and they need a space where they can do that.”

So while the local community keeps Nellie’s alive, Rally tourists, hunting, rodeos and more have allowed the business to expand into having eight campsites and a trailer house out back available to rent.

“I’m about to take the big plunge into the AirBnB, but I didn’t quite get it done this year,” Assman said. “So we’ll see what next year brings.”

She has created a space which she hopes lives up to her motto: less is more on Highway 34.

“Take some time, swing on in, I’d be happy to give you a beer or a burger and just slow down,” Assman said. “Just stop and enjoy the atmosphere and enjoy a little bit of the wild, wild west, I guess.”

Throughout Rally week, Nellie’s has hosted a fundraiser to benefit the community. Whenever somebody purchased the Rally special of pulled pork and beans, proceeds went toward the local volunteer fire department and ambulance.

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