Dealer's move puts bikers in hog heaven

Harley-Davidson revs up sales with a bigger store along the U.S. 1 corridor


May 24, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

A huge new Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership atop a hill overlooking U.S. 1 in Elkridge is open for business, its bright orange roof a symbol of the rejuvenation of the old commercial corridor.

The Harley-Davidson of Maryland dealership, which sold more than 500 bikes last year, moved from cramped quarters in the nearby Elkridge Industrial Park on the east side of U.S. 1 to a facility nearly three times as large.

"It's the best-kept secret, and now it's going to be out," said owner Tina Wehner. The 30,000-square-foot building on 4.2 acres cost about $5 million, she said.

On Friday, a parade of motorcycles, fire engines and public officials in SUVs celebrated the dealership's reopening -- a symbol of the transformation that county officials hope will continue along U.S. 1.

With County Executive James N. Robey adorned in an orange-and-black leather jacket for his remarks -- and Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" blasting from stereo speakers -- the store opened to great fanfare in the Troy Hill Commerce Center, just north of Route 100.

Dick Story, the county's economic development director, said that "80 percent of the county's jobs are created by companies that are here and grow." The new center, with 1.3 million square feet of space, was a field four years ago.

The county has spent more than a year crafting a U.S. 1 revitalization plan, with new housing, transportation and industrially zoned land.

Wehner's husband, Harry Edward Wehner, bought the motorcycle dealership in 1991 after learning that it was for sale when he went to pick up a part.

After he died in 2000, Wehner decided to find a new location.

"I had remodeled and expanded three times," she said. She worked with Columbia-based real estate firm Manekin LLC to find a location, and Manekin's construction division built the structure. The business also received a Route 1 Revitalization loan from Laurel-based Citizens National Bank.

A growing area

"They've been part of the area for a long time," said Michael J. Russo, the bank's senior vice president. "This keeps them in an area where we need to have growing businesses."

The new shop will offer motorcycles, provide service and financing, and sell parts, accessories and clothes, Wehner said.

Since the Wehners took over the business, Harley-Davidson increased the dealership's yearly allocation of bikes from 160 to 520, Wehner said.

"It's not the destination, it's the journey," Wehner told the crowd at Friday's celebration.

At first, the shop's customers had to order from catalogs. Now the dealer is allowed to keep as many as 50 bikes in the showroom.

A small challenge

But that was a challenge in the shop's old 13,000-square-foot building.

At the old shop, Wehner had pointed to several outside storage containers where some bikes were kept overnight because of limited room.

Employees were "spending so much time each day moving bikes around," Wehner said.

Wehner will offer Rider's Edge -- a training program for motorcyclists of all skill levels -- next to the new store. Dealerships in Baltimore and Annapolis also offer the training, although it is located off-site. New riders will be able to take road tests -- conducted by a Motor Vehicle Administration employee -- at the store.

The store also has climate-controlled winter storage for bikes.

With all the new space, Wehner is hiring 14 more employees, including three mechanics and another chrome specialist.

Changing clientele

The owner has seen customers change throughout the years. Now they range in age from 33 to 75, with most buyers in their early 40s, she said. Their median income is a little more than $80,000, according to data on the Harley-Davidson Web site.

Jim Collins, 54, of Laurel, president of the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department, rode his fire-engine red 2002 Harley Road King to Friday's ceremony with a group of Red Knight Motorcycle Club riders.

"Harley-Davidson is in the family. It's in your blood," he said. "We stick together."

Wehner said more women are also walking through the dealership's doors.

"The women don't want to ride on the back of their husband's bike," she said.

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