STURGIS | Dwight and Danielle Miller initially thought they would be the last people to own any property — let alone a motel — in Sturgis.
But fate, and a remarkable family connection to a well-known, colorful local historical figure, conspired to make their new business, the revamped and renamed Sturgis Motel, a reality just in time for next week’s Sturgis motorcycle rally.
The Millers, from Sacramento, Calif., decided to look for investment properties when Dwight semi-retired as an orthodontist about a year ago.
“I wanted something to do in my second life,” Dwight said.
They looked into buying and rejuvenating homes for resale in Sacramento, but the competition between bidders for available properties suitable for flipping was “crazy,” Dwight recalled.
Through a friend, they found a home in Sturgis, but Dwight figured that was unworkable as well.
“There’s no way I’m going to buy a place that far away that I’m going to work on, but I ended up buying it,” he said.
Driving around town, a For Sale sign in front of the Star Lite Motel on Junction Ave., caught their eye.
“Here’s your next investment,” their friend told them.
After continued goading, Dwight finally met with the realtor and toured the property late last year.
“I was intrigued,” he said. “One thing led to another and we ended up buying it.”
What sealed the deal, however, was an unexpected connection between Danielle and one of the Black Hills’ more colorful historical figures, Poker Alice Tubbs, a cigar-chomping gambler, bootlegger and madam who operated a bordello for many years in Sturgis.
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Her home, at one time situated on the banks of Bear Butte Creek, and serving as residential housing until the 1970s, was moved to the site of the hotel by the former owners more than 20 years ago.
Danielle learned through her relatives that her mother and Poker Alice share the maiden name of Ivers.
“I’m related to Poker Alice,” she said.
Starting in January, the Millers began renovating the two-story motel, fixing and sealing a rear wall of the building that was allowing rooms to flood, and repainting the entire structure, inside and out.
“We started looking around, and Danielle went one room ahead of me and made a punch list of things I needed to do — paint, spackling, touch-up repairs, plumbing and other things,” Dwight said.
They enlisted the help of Frank and Elizabeth Sorensen of Rapid City, originally hired to help clean and fix up the motel, then offered the job of managing the business.
“We stole them away from an apartment complex they were managing. They made this happen. They’ve made our dream become a reality,” Dwight said. “They’ve been a gift from heaven, because they both have experience in the motel business.”
The Sturgis Motel will celebrate a grand-opening ribbon-cutting ceremony today at 11 a.m.
The Poker Alice House, filled with photos, books and other memorabilia, now serves as the motel's office.
The Millers plan to stay for a few days to experience their first-ever Sturgis motorcycle rally. The newly-refurbished motel is ready for the onslaught.
“Thanks to Frank, this place is now more than habitable. And thanks to Elizabeth, we’re busier than all of our wildest expectations. I think we’re pretty much full next week,” Dwight said.