Americana sold here: Harley-Davidson comes to the Village


Harley-Davidson has ridden into town. The American motorcycle icon has a new retail outlet parked on Prospect selling everything for bikers, from dog bowls and chew toys to leather jackets.

According to its colorful, outspoken pony-tailed owner, “New York Myke” Shelby, buying anything with his company’s name on it is more than a purchase: It’s an investment.

“Harley Davidson is a piece of Americana,” said Shelby, an East Coast transplant and Vietnam War veteran who is a lifelong motorcyle enthusiast. “Harley-Davidson is as American as apple pie. I call it rock ‘n’ roll and rodeo, as American as generosity and charity. Nothing outside of Disneyland says America like a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.”

The Village might not seem the ideal choice for selling motorcycle gear, since its known more for boutique art galleries and trendy clothing shops. In Shelby’s view, however, it’s the perfect place to be.

“The Harley-Davidson name is synonymous with America,” he said. “People from around the world love that. America is the envy of the rest of the world, and Harley-Davidson motorcyle represents that American spirit.”

Deborah Marengo is president of Promote La Jolla, the community’s business improvement district. She welcomed Harley Davidson to town.

“It’s always exciting when you have a new business coming into La Jolla that is a little bit different,” she said. “I think Harley coming here is great. There is a market here that will bring a lot of locals down. I have a lot of friends in La Jolla who are Harley fans and really enjoy their motorcycles.”

The new store will also have practical value for shoppers, added Marengo. “Even though the store seems boutiquey, it really has a lot of logo-type gear that people can wear. The Village isn’t only geared toward tourism. We like to see locals.”

Marengo did have one suggestion for Harley owner Myke Shelby.

“It would be nice to have a classic Harley-Davidson display as a focal point of the store,” she said. “I think that would be a huge attraction.”

Shelby owns two other San Diego stores that sell and service morotcycles. He said it’s more convenient for his patrons, many of whom are seasonal, out-of-town travelers, to shop for motorcycle garb and accessories like T-shirts or jackets at satellite locations like La Jolla’s Prospect Street.

“We look at areas where tourists go,” said Shelby. “We’ve set up these retail outlets, and it’s worked really well. People want to buy Harley-Davidson stuff. This is a convenient way for people, who are from foreign countries, to buy something and take it home and say, ‘I own a Harley.’ ”

Harley-Davidson on Prospect carries a plethora of jewelry and watches, glasses and cups, belts and buckles, boots and shoes, skirts, blouses and sweaters, cigarette lighters and jackets, all bearing the company’s logo. The cost of items ranges from $3.95 for a Harley-Davidson collector pin to $500 for some of the leather gear.

The company’s history dates back more than a century to 1901, when 21-year-old William S. Harley completed a blueprint drawing of an engine designed to fit into a bicycle.

Two years later, Harley and business partner Arthur Davidson made publicly available the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Though Harley-Davdison morocycles have always enjoyed a niche market, Japanese bikes like Kawasaki and Yamaha posed a threat in the 1960s and 1970s. Shelby, who’d been riding and racing motorcycles since the 1960s, said that threat of foreign competition is what converted him to the buy-American cause.

“I saw the Japanese were putting every other motorcycle manufacturer out of business,” said Shelby. “I recognized the handwriting was on the wall. ... I have to sell American.”

Shelby has stuck to his vow since then.

“People are just realizing the significance of buying American,” he said. “People have to vote with their dollars. We’re losing jobs, industry and tradition. That’s a bad choice. Now, clearly, American manufacurers have an obligation to make a better product. Harley-Davidson, we’ve done that for a long time.”

Aside from being an American original, Shelby credits Harley-Davidson with being a throwback to a simpler time in our nation’s history.

“Even today, Harley-Davidson reflects America of the ‘50s,” he said, “the defeat of Nazism and the Japanese imperialists, that wonderful era of American art deco and motorcycle style. Harley-Davidson still captures a lot of that style.”

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