The Long Branch Tavern, located in Laurel, has a somewhat notorious reputation around Franklin County.

Owners Charley and Bev Harrison are not unaware of the notoriety that accompanied the purchase of one of Laurel's oldest businesses that is still open today.

According to Bev, there is one story she says she hears every time the Long Branch comes up in a conversation. The story goes that any newcomer who walks through the front door has been asked by the bartender working “Have you got a knife or a gun?” To which the customer responds, “No.” The bartender in turn says, “Well let me give you one (knife).”

After hearing the story told with slight variations more than 50 times, Harrison embraced the reputation she is working hard to change and is even able to joke about it. She sells shirts boasting “I survived the Long Branch,” and according to her she has sold around 500.
The former college professor, Bev, is doing a lot more than selling shirts in her new title as a bar owner. And even though she is technically “retired,” she is slowly, but surely, changing the stigma surrounding this Laurel hub.

The first thing on the new owner's to-do list seven years ago was establish the Long Branch did not house the rough-and-tough atmosphere it was so well known for. Instead, it has changed to a place anyone can come in and have fun in a relaxed atmosphere.

“It was rough for the first six months or so,” Bev said. “I was throwing them out the back and Charley was throwing them out the front. This is a place that you come to have a good time. Period. We don't tolerate anything else.”

Charley and Bev said it didn't take long to change the atmosphere inside the bar so next they went to work outside the bar. They started and continued their work outside the walls by giving back to the community that not only houses their business, but their home as well.

This year alone the Long Branch has aided in the purchase of American flags and holiday flags that now line the streets of Laurel along with playground equipment for the town park. Other groups in Laurel, such as the Masonic Lodge and fire department along with many others, have contributed to help make some of the Harrisons' visions possible. Thanks to money raised from a ride the Long Branch hosted, a $3,500 merry-go-round was purchased and added to the swing set already purchased by the Long Branch and monkey bars that were purchased by a brotherhood of bikers -- The Broke-Ass Bikers -- in the Laurel Town Park.

Annually the Long Branch stays busy hosting several events, as well, that raise money that all pours back into the community. During the fall and winter season, the Long Branch hosts a “trick or treat” for children in the community where 30-plus bikes line up and fill their saddlebags full of candy. Then, for the adults, there is a free Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner open to anyone and everyone who doesn't have a place to go.  

“Charley and I spend our Thanksgiving and Christmas here,” Bev said. “We all come here and have a ball. On Thanksgiving, I break out the turkey hats, and we just act goofy and have fun. You must be 21 to get in, but if someone wanted dinner and wasn't of age, we would certainly pack them a to-go box full. Last year we had three turkeys and still didn't have enough.”

Another annual event is on the horizon for the Long Branch owners: The Laurel Community Christmas Party. The event will be held on December 15, at the Laurel Community Center. There you will find Santa handing out presents to 120 children from around Laurel thanks to the success of the “Jam Fest for Kids” the Long Branch hosts to raise money for the toy drive. This year businesses and patrons came together to pack the Long Branch, making Jam Fest a success. The grand total for everyone's efforts was $6,816.

“A lot of people come together to make this happen,” Bev said. “The bartenders were getting auction items for the event; the musicians donated their time at Jam Fest; and we have 12 ladies shopping for all the kids.”

According to Bev, the gifts are not “generic” either.

“After the kids sign up, we contact the parents and ask what they (the kids) want for Christmas,” Bev said. “We don't just shop for gifts that are boy and girl. If they want a Barbie and a basketball, then that is what they get. And yes, we want to help needy kids, but this is for every kid in Laurel. If you live in the Laurel school district, then you qualify.”

The largest annual event is the “Broke-Ass Biker Fest” the Harrisons started. The group of bikers the fest draws from all over the state and beyond is the people who make up what they refer to as a brotherhood. This brotherhood of bikers was inspired by an injury Charley received when riding his own bike. Beyond a major head injury, broken ribs, and other injuries, Charley also suffered from a broken “ass.” A full recovery was made, but Charley still walks with a limp, and he noticed other bikers that shared a limp from riding injuries too. So, the new brotherhood was formed – “The Broke-Ass Bikers.” Everyone is welcome, and they have riders from every walk of life. This annual event is held in Metamora at the Gateway Park, and it raises between $3,000 to $5,000. The proceeds go to the Franklin County Humane Society every year.  

Even with a full plate, the Harrisons have no intention of slowing down anytime soon when it comes to bettering their small community.

“People from all over the state come down and tell me there is a 'sense of community' that you get here that you can't get anywhere else,” Bev said. “It is a very personal mission of mine to do these things in the community. When I was raising my family here in Laurel, I didn't have a town park to walk my kids to and there was definitely no place to visit Santa close by. Most of the time these ideas come from Charley and I saying, ok what does Laurel need and then pull customers, bikers and businesses together to get it done.” 

Beyond taking notice of the work being done in the community, Bev encourages community members from all over the county to stop in and see the changes that have been made at the Long Branch. According to Bev, over the winter, the Long Branch will be packed with things to do, including Karaoke and other entertainment. In May, the Monday night rides will start back up that are hosted by the Long Branch and run until October. The “suite next door” (The Harrisons Air BNB) is open year-round, too, and is literally next door to the Long Branch, which provides easy access when someone needs a place to stay.

“I know if I can get someone through the door a couple times, they will come back,” Bev said. “It is just a matter of seeing what we are really about firsthand. Good things are happening in Laurel, and I want the community to know that.”