Local Harley Store Closes; Bike Week Impact Unclear

BERLIN – Perhaps another casualty of the staggering economy, the Harley-Davidson dealership on Route 50 in Berlin is closing its doors at the end of next week after a decision to consolidate the operation with its sister dealership in Seaford.

The original Harley-Davidson of Seaford opened in 1976 and for two decades met the needs of the biking community on the Lower Eastern Shore. With increased popularity and a growing demand, the company opened a second dealership on the corner of Route 50 and Keyser Point Rd. in West Ocean City in 1998.

After outgrowing that space, the company moved to its current location on Route 50 at Seahawk Rd. across from Stephen Decatur High School six years ago and thrived for several years as the center of the motorcycling community in Worcester County and the shore. Now, driven by sagging demand caused by the continued recession, Harley-Davidson of Seaford is closing the Berlin dealership and consolidating its business in its original location.

“The demand follows the economy, and as we all know, a lot of businesses have been affected by this,” said Bruce Bennett, marketing and promotions director for Harley-Davidson of Seaford and Ocean City. “It’s an extremely difficult decision, but it’s one we had to make.”

The last official day of business at the Berlin location is next Sunday, Oct. 31, and the consolidation process will begin Nov. 1. Bennett said the company was forced to consider scaling back its operations. The decision to close the Berlin location and consolidate the business at the original Seaford location was made after much soul-searching, according to Bennett.

“It makes a lot of sense from a business standpoint, but that doesn’t make it any easier,” he said. “We have a lot of employees and there are a lot of jobs at stake. Some will go to our Seaford location, but there won’t be room for everybody.”

Bennett said because of contractual obligations with Harley-Davidson, simply shuttering the business for the winter, or until the economy improved, wasn’t on the table for the company.

“A ton of businesses in Ocean City close for the winter, but that wasn’t an option for us,” he said. “It’s not as simple as just closing up for the winter and re-opening for the spring because of our arrangements with Harley-Davidson.”

In a formal statement, the company informed its many clients that current economic hardships made the move necessary.

“Due to the changes in the spending patterns of the public, which are changes driven by the current economy, it is unfortunate but necessary that we consolidate the Harley-Davidson of Ocean City location with the Harley-Davidson of Seaford store,” the statement reads. “This is, we hope, a temporary change for us, until the economy improves and the need for our second location is once again present. As we all know, three years ago this country’s economy started to undergo some huge challenges and the motorcycle industry has certainly not been spared from these economic impacts.”

The vast Harley-Davidson dealership on Route 50 has been ground zero for the last few years for Delmarva Bike Week, and while the popular event does not appear in jeopardy, the closure of the Berlin store certainly complicates the planning process.

“Bike Week is a separate company and we set it up that way for a reason,” said Bennett. “Harley-Davidson is an important sponsor of the event and that won’t likely change, but we have to sort out what the plan is for the 2011 event.”

Bennett said the company is currently reviewing the most recent Bike Week and planning for 2011.

“Right now, we’re going through our evaluation of the 2010 event, just as we would do in any other year,” he said. “We’re working on getting sponsors and deciding on venues for next year and this closure, or consolidation, it just part of that. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think this is just a normal thing, because it’s a pretty significant change for us, but we will take it under consideration as we plan for 2011.”

It remains uncertain if the site could be a venue for next year’s Delmarva Bike Week, or if not, what other venue or venues might be able to handle the event.

“Right now, we have to figure out what’s best for the event,” he said. “It’s not as simple as just saying, ‘let’s host it here or there.’ There are a lot of logistics involved including the amount of space needed, the traffic patterns, the impact on the communities, and the cooperation with law enforcement.”

Harley-Davidson of Seaford and Ocean City does own the vast property on Route 50, but there are no plans for its future at the moment, according to Bennett.

“We’re not certain about that, and honestly, right now it’s not a primary concern,” he said. “Right now, we’re going through the process of consolidating the dealerships and everything that involves from a business standpoint. More importantly, we’re trying to take care of the human element of the situation, our employees and the needs of our longtime, loyal customers.”