Gainesville Harley-Davidson shop celebrates 20 years with party for customers
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 12:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 12:06 p.m.
Under a cloud of barbecue-flavored smoke, a large crowd of motorcycle riders gathered for a birthday party.
Nearly everyone wore a shirt or jacket bearing the logo of the legendary Harley-Davidson brand. They mingled and talked about everything Harley, while classic rock blasted from a nearby stage.
Most were middle-aged or older, and there was no shortage of stories to share about their love of riding. For some, their history with Harleys started right where they were partying, at Gainesville Harley-Davidson.
The dealership at 4125 NW 97th Blvd. celebrated its 20th anniversary on Feb. 23 with a “birthday bash” for customers, friends and family.
From noon to 4 p.m., the riders enjoyed burgers and hotdogs from Beef O’Brady’s, Domino’s Pizza, an ample supply of beer and live music from the Gainesville band Evil Monkey.
Ray and Gail Lytle opened the independent dealership in 1993 in a 5,000-square-foot storefront. After two years of steady growth, they moved to their current location in 1995.
Ray died in 2001, but the family kept going and expanded the store to its current 20,000 square feet in 2003.
Gail, 60, is the owner, and her two sons — Paul Lytle, 33, and Kevin Lytle, 32 — help run the operation.
Paul and Kevin have been helping out around the business since they were in middle school. They rode their bicycles to the dealership after class and helped wash motorcycles.
Gail, Paul and Kevin said they all learned to ride motorcycles at about the same time. Gail was in her 40s, while her sons were 15 and 14, respectively.
They all shared the same bike — a Honda Rebel 250. One of the people at the birthday party later noted jokingly that admitting to owning a Honda motorcycle can be social suicide around serious Harley fans.
In recent years, the popularity of motorcycle riding has risen worldwide, and the dealership has ridden the wave. Since 2009, Paul said, they have seen a 35 percent increase in sales.
“I attribute so much to our staff,” he said.
Even with the economy sputtering, when it’s reasonable to expect purchases to fall off for expensive machines like Harleys — which can easily fetch $30,000 for a used bike — people are still buying.
Motorcycles have become more accessible thanks to Harley’s marketing, said Paul Lytle. Harley-Davidson has branched out and targeted demographics other than the staple 45- to 65-year-old white males, he said. They have captured the attention of women, Hispanics, and the black community, he said.
“The sport has realized that not every rider is 5-foot-9-inches and 180 pounds,” he said.
Other riders at the event had their own explanations for the boom in the number of bikers. Some said it could be due to the high gas mileage that bikes provide, or to the ease in finding parking spaces for people who live or work in crowded cities.
W.T. “Roadblock” Harrell had a more obvious theory: Riding a motorcycle is fun.
“Once you ride a motorcycle, it’s hard to not ride one,” said Harrell, who has been riding since after he got back from Vietnam around 1971.
Harrell, from Jacksonville, set up shop near the back of the event, selling copies of his book, “The Probate,” a fictionalized account of his life experiences. He had to spend nearly 30 years away from his hobby, while he was in prison from 1980-2009.
A man, who wished to only be identified as K.W., held similar sentiments to Roadblock. “It’s cheap recreation,” he said.
K.W., from Levy County, a bike-enthusiast since 1971, has bought four Harleys from Gainesville Harley-Davidson.
“These are good people,” he said of the staff and owners. He said the business has brought in a lot of money to the community, and should be respected for that.
Looking to the future, the Lytle family hopes to keep expanding the business. Kevin said he would like to open another dealership in a different county, or maybe Georgia.
Gail wants nothing to do with that.
“Taking care of this dealership is all I can handle,” she said. The new location would be in the hands of the two brothers.
“In five years, I hope to be doing what I’m doing right now,” Gail said. “It’s the best part of my life.”