ORMOND BEACH, FLA. MAR 7-16—It was January, 1994, when Bruce Rossmeyer first opened the doors to Daytona Harley-Davidson on Beach Street in Daytona Beach, Florida. Over the ensuing decades, Bruce opened several more dealerships, becoming one of the largest Harley-Davidson dealers in the world. Sadly, he passed away in a motorcycle accident on the way to Sturgis in July 2009, but his family continued to successfully carry forward the Rossmeyer empire.
On Monday, March 10, during Daytona Bike Week, the dealership kicked off its 20th anniversary, hosting a party under the pavilion at Destination Daytona. In attendance were industry leaders, vendors, sponsors and those who have supported Daytona H-D over the years. The evening’s festivities included a performance by Nashville recording artist Jared Blake as well as a live painting performance by nationally-known artist Perego.
A few days after the party, I had an opportunity to speak with some members of the Rossmeyer family. Bruce’s wife Sandy filled me in on a little of his background. “He had gotten in trouble buying a motorcycle,” she laughed. “He wasn’t even 18 yet. His father told him, ‘You can either live at home, or you can put everything you own on the back of your Harley and leave.’ He decided to live at home. He owned a motorcycle for about two weeks.”
Sandy continued, “I met Bruce in college, at the University of Southern Mississippi, and we got married in 1964. In ’87 or ’88, we moved back down here and we bought a Harley from Joe Robison who was the local dealer at the time. We had bought several bikes from him in prior years. All of a sudden, Joe said his dealership was for sale and Bruce bought it, thinking this was just gonna be a small mom-and-pop thing. He was in the car business, and thought, ‘I can still do my car business, but this is like a weekend job.’ You can see what happened.”
“The first dealership on Beach Street was great,” Sandy remembers. “You know how on Main Street bikes back in side by side all the way down the street? That first year, 1994, Bruce looked out and there were about 30 bikes in front of the dealership. Bruce was so excited, but little did he know that within a year there would be bikes as far as you could see, with vendors across the street.”
Just a few years later, Bruce opened a dealership in Grand Junction, Colorado, followed by several more in Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Massachusetts. In 2005, Bruce opened a 109,000-square-foot dealership at Destination Daytona, which now serves as the flagship location. What was his vision? According to Sandy, he said, “I want to make it a Disneyworld for bikers!” He wanted an open-air place where people could take their beers and walk on the streets and enjoy themselves. The 150-acre Destination Daytona property now houses J&P Cycle, WyoTech, a hotel and condo, restaurants and bars, an entertainment pavilion, tattoo shop, clothing stores and other retail establishments. It was Bruce’s plan to keep the downtown dealership, but as people got used to going to Destination Daytona, the Beach Street location was transformed into an H-D retail shop and museum featuring Bruce’s collection of motorcycles and memorabilia.
After Bruce passed away, the family chose to put their combined efforts into running the flagship Ormond Beach and New Smyrna dealerships and sell the out-of-area dealerships. The entire Rossmeyer family is involved in the store operations—Sandy is president of the Rossmeyer companies and is onsite every day. Sandy’s and Bruce’s five children are all involved in different aspects of the dealership as well. Shelly Rossmeyer Pepe is general manager of Daytona H-D, her sister Mandy Rossmeyer Campbell is marketing and events manager, brother Will is operations manager and Shelly’s husband Dean Pepe is general counsel. Sisters Wendy Rossmeyer Van Patten and Randy Rossmeyer Blalock are also involved in the business.
“I think Bruce started off as an entrepreneur, a businessman, but his heart was in his charity work,” Sandy recalls. “He loved Camp Boggy Creek. He started a charity ride to the camp the first year the Beach Street store was open. In fact, they were just building it then. Bruce just fell in love with the whole concept, got on the board and, since then, we have raised $5 million for the camp. The kids asked him one time, ‘Why do you do it?’ He said, ‘I do it because I can do it, but the funny thing about it is, the more I give, the more I get.’ Right at the beginning, he committed a million dollars in 10 years. We did that in a couple years. All his ideas were grand. He dreamed big and he made them happen. Think about all the celebrities that have come to all these events—Steven Tyler, James Gandolfini, Paul Newman, Edie Falco, Steve Buscemi… you look at these pictures in his office, and who didn’t he know?”
This year’s ride, the 20th annual, to benefit Camp Boggy Creek will be held October 5. Bruce was also very involved in the Boys & Girls Clubs in South Florida and in Volusia/Flagler Counties. The Rossmeyer family still does fundraisers and every year gives the kids in Holly Hill a Christmas party.
Daytona H-D’s 20th anniversary is being celebrated all year. Shelly explained, “We’ll do a few more anniversary parties through the year. In this business, it’s all about the customers and the loyalty of the customers, and we do consistent monthly things like block parties and after-hour parties at the dealership. We just try to focus on the customers and anyone that’s given us their business over the years, we want to keep earning it. We’re proud of our 20 years in business. We have some customers and associates that have been here with us for that long, and that’s pretty important. We don’t want to lose that.”
Sandy said, “Bruce and I would’ve had our 50th anniversary this past month. We miss him. He’s left a big hole in our lives and our hearts. But we’re doing fine.” In fact, this year Destination Daytona sold out on vendors for Bike Week, which is the first time that has happened in several years. And there are changes afoot. Shelly says, “An RV dealership is getting ready to start building. That’s big.” There will be a lot more going on under the pavilion; more regular concerts and fights, and not just during the rally months of March and October.
In January 2014 the 20-year lease was up for the original Daytona H-D location. The family still wanted to maintain a Daytona Beach presence so they reopened their retail location on Main Street, which had been closed for a year. “The museum right now is packed away, but it will be reopened here at Destination Daytona,” Sandy maintains. “We have a lot of collectibles, and that’s the way the kids remember their dad; they grew up listening to his stories. The intention was to have the museum out here a long, long time ago. The plan is for the museum to be ready by next year’s Bike Week.”
“Our dad loved what he did,” said Shelly. “He was so passionate about motorcycles. He loved seeing people happy; seeing someone get on the bike they just bought. He loved the energy; he loved going to work. He loved the people he met and I think this business was so much more relaxed for him than the car business. It was instant gratification. He just did what he did because he loved it; he just loved being around it.”