Auburn Harley-Davidson/Buell of Auburn, California went out of business yesterday. Auburn is in the California gold country on Interstate Route 80 about thirty miles northeast of Sacramento.
The dealership opened in 1976. It employed 42 people two years ago. Yesterday the last 15 employees lost their jobs.
For most of the last quarter century, owning a Harley dealership was practically a license to print money. But after former President George W. Bush decided to transform the regulated American economy into a beautiful free-market jungle, the weak began to drop like flies. Auburn Harley is the third American dealership to go out of business in slightly less than six months.
Santa Cruz Harley closed last November after 85 years. A week later Wilwert’s Harley-Davidson of Dubuque, Iowa went bankrupt after 48 years. Auburn Harley-Davidson made it into its 34th year.
Almost every Harley dealer has the same sad tale to tell. “Obviously, the economy has hurt us and other businesses,” dealer Bob Holmes told the Auburn Journal. “It’s been the lack of credit that’s been available for our customers and for us, the ever-increasing taxes and fees have hurt.”
Police, prison guard and teacher unions in California have effectively lobbied for ever higher taxes. In most California counties, sales taxes now add about $2,000 to the price of a new bike.
Bye, Bye Hog
As happened with the other dealerships that closed, the local Harley Owners Group (HOG) chapter, Auburn Gold Country HOG, is also now out of business. Over the last decade the dealership and the HOG chapter have raised and distributed about $1 million in support of local, good causes.
Recently, Auburn Harley had one of the best customer service ratings of any dealership in the country. Obviously, customer service now matters less than deep pockets.
Holmes told Gus Thomson of the Journal that he has been trying to get out of the motorcycle business but could not find a buyer. “I’ve had the business for sale for some time and the last best potential deal fell through,” the dealer said. “Frankly, the reason we’re closing is because we’re out of money.”