NEW YORK, N.Y., DEC. 12—The e-vite in my inbox announced, “We’re bringing Harley-Davidson motorcycles to Manhattan in a big way.” It went on to trumpet the cutting-edge technology and ultramodern showroom that would be featured at the brand-new dealership. And that’s all it took for me to place myself on the invite list for the private, 21-and-over event celebrating the grand opening of Harley-Davidson of New York City.
For those of you who are familiar with H-D of NYC in Long Island City, Queens, be assured that the Queens dealership isn’t going anywhere. The original Harley-Davidson of New York City actually did have its first location in Manhattan, but about 30 years ago, the dealership moved to its current locale in Queens in order to expand. So one might consider the brand-new store in lower Manhattan a homecoming of sorts.
As I approach the corner of Broadway and White Street, there’s a typical New York City street scene—cones and barriers and a flashing road construction sign. A bright orange-and-black banner proclaiming “Harley-Davidson of New York City” is mounted on the scaffolding that surrounds the ground level of the dealership. The storefront and side of the structure comprises two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows that allow passersby to see everything inside. The building’s glass-and-metal design fits right into the hip, yet historic, vibe, complementing the Greek Revival and cast-iron architecture styles of this Tribeca neighborhood.
Forgetting that I’m on New York City time, I’m one of the first to arrive at the preparty press launch, giving me plenty of time to talk with John Maguire, the general manager and parts manager. I learn that H-D of NYC first decided to open a Manhattan store two years ago. John explains, “As we were scouting around for a site, we said, ‘Wait a minute—we already have the perfect location!’ Owner/dealer principal Avi Jacobi owns this property. It’s a co-op building and the David Z. shoe store used to be here, so we gutted it and built it up into a high-tech dealership.”
The building’s interior is simply stunning, with new Harleys lining the wall of windows on the left and a café over on the right. Prominently ensconced on the coffee bar is a programmable La Cimbali espresso machine specially imported from Italy, but there’s no espresso being served here tonight. Instead, Koran Thomas of William Wolf Pecan Bourbon has, just for this occasion, taken over the coffee bar to pour for the press.
By now, the press corps have filled all the seats that have been set out in the middle of the showroom floor. John introduces event emcee Felix Rodrigues, who says, “Harley-Davidson of New York City could’ve gotten a celebrity to emcee, but they wanted a rider from the city, and that’s the kind of dealership they are.” He goes on to expound on the new building, which encompasses 17,000 square feet spread across two floors. The pièce de rèsistance (besides the fabulous espresso machine, of course) is the Power Wall, a touch-screen kiosk that allows customers to digitally design and view their dealer-customized bikes on a large movie screen set against the back wall of the first-floor showroom. Think H-D1 customization on steroids.
Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture worked with Avi’s nephew Asef Jacobi, H-D of NYC president and general manager, to develop the digital architecture. In fact, Asef shared the concept with Harley-Davidson, and The Motor Company proposed to co-develop it with H-D of NYC. The Power Wall is the first of its kind and is intended to serve as a model for future Harley dealerships.
After the Power Wall demo, the staff unveils six H-D of NYC custom bikes: the Sportster Glitter, a custom FXDB, Softail Breakout and FLHP Road King, a Sportster bobber, and a V-Rod Muscle made into a touring machine. Each features the H-D of NYC logo styled after the iconic New York City subway token.
And now it’s time to open the doors to the folks waiting outside in the cold. I follow the crowd down the stairwell to the lower level, which encompasses MotorClothes, footwear and helmets, the parts department, and the main showroom. Every motorcycle is individually displayed with a striking wall mural of the New York City skyline serving as backdrop. There’s a glass-enclosed lift suspended between floors, which tonight acts as a dais for the dealership’s checkered cab-style bagger. In the future, when a customer buys a bike, the lift will be used to bring the bike up to the ground level.
Tonight’s attendees comprise about the most diverse crowd you’ll ever see at a Harley dealership: downtown hipsters, Goth and heavy-metal types with big hair, Europeans in black tie and tux, models, actors, singers and artists, regular folks from the neighborhood and many of Avi’s and Asef’s family members, including Asef’s mom who came over from Israel just for the opening. There are riders from Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, including members of the NYC H.O.G. chapter and the NYC chapter of the Latin American Motorcycle Association. DJ Jess is spinning house music in front of a 16-monitor display wall, and the mood of the crowd is quite festive.
I spot John’s brother Jim Maguire, service manager for H-D of NYC. Jim tells me, “This is the first dealership Harley has ever approved without a service department. They had to verify that Queens could handle two locations.” No service department? The folks at H-D of NYC have it all figured out. They offer concierge service: You can bring your bike to the Tribeca location and the staff will transport the bike to Queens to be serviced and then bring it back to Manhattan. Or, you can just arrange for bike pickup and delivery. Jim continues, “We had to expand the shop in Queens to 12 mechanics. Eventually every aspect of the Queens dealership will be renovated to complement the new store here. We want you to feel like you’re sitting in your friend’s living room while you’re waiting for your bike to be serviced.”
Since this is a New York City social event there is a VIP lounge, but the only VIP I recognize is Tattoo Tony Rodriguez of Under My Skin Tattoo Studio at the Jersey Shore. I guess after 20 years away from my NYC apartment, I’ve been out of the scene for way too long. However, there are plenty of other folks that I do recognize, many of whom are in town for the International Motorcycle Show that opens in Midtown Manhattan tomorrow. I chat with representatives from Rivera Primo and S&S Cycle, and then I see a number of Harley executives including Director of Marketing Experience Steve Piehl, Senior Vice President and Global Chief Marketing Officer Mark-Hans Richer, Director of the Young Adult Segment Mike Lowney, Vice President of Global Integrated Marketing Shelly Paxton, Director of Strategic Marketing for North America Stacy Watson, Field Marketing Manager Dan Mattias and a few other Harley staffers.
I wonder aloud how a dealership in one of the trendiest and touristy neighborhoods in the city will fare, and John comments, “We’re the only Harley dealership servicing Manhattan, and we will attract multiple segments given our location. There are tour buses that come down Broadway. Tribeca is a hip neighborhood and we’re hoping to get some young hip urban kids. It starts with a T-shirt from our T-shirt Loft, then a leather jacket from the Leather Lounge, then they throw a leg over a bike. And the courts are right down the street. Lawyers have been stopping by to find out when the store will open.” It turns out that this is not a soft opening. John says, “We’re hitting the ground running. We’re opening for business tomorrow.”