When you consider the elements of a great motorcycle dealership, several pivotal characteristics come to mind. The shop should be clean and well stocked, so customers can buy what they want when they want it. It should have a reliable service department and a helpful, friendly staff. Glitz and glamour are fine, but if a shop has a sense of history, some tangible heritage or a place in motorcycle lore, so much the better. And it should be conveniently located. In fact, the ideal dealership should be situated in the midst of truly great riding country.
All this and more is present at Parkway Harley-Davidson in Swannanoa, N.C., a long-standing dealership originally housed in humbler surroundings as Gene Lummus H-D and located a mere three miles from the famed Blue Ridge Parkway in the western part of the state. The massive square footage (35,000 of it) is packed with everything Harley-Davidson, from clothing and furniture to hard parts and consumables. Visitors are greeted with a prompt welcome and amiable offers of assistance. As for the heritage aspect, Gene and Brenda Lummus bought the franchise in 1987 and along with their son, Travis, they’ve etched the Lummus name in record books with five championships in AHDRA drag racing.
Despite knowing the Lummus name and living within a short day’s ride of the shop, I’d never met Gene until this day, when I stopped in unexpectedly. Just as unexpectedly, I found Gene in the customer lounge area, putting on a pot of coffee for a rider who’d just stopped in, like me. That’s when I discovered one of the secrets of this dealership’s success, as Gene, Brenda and I relaxed in rocking chairs scattered around the showroom floor for a chat. “I try to stay here,” said Gene. “If someone’s got a problem, they can find me. I’m not hidden in an office or behind a computer; I’m available.”
Born a Texan, Gene came to North Carolina in 1964 to visit his brother at Fort Bragg (“with $20 and a lot of nerve”) and never left. He worked at a Honda shop in Fayetteville for 10 years before renting space for a shop of his own, offering the gamut of performance and custom work, including painting and metal fabrication. “Back in the day, seriously, we built our own oil tanks and extended gas tanks. You couldn’t just order those things, you had to build them.”
After 13 years as an independent, the opportunity he’d been waiting for — to obtain a Harley-Davidson franchise — came up in the western part of the state and, “We sold everything we owned to buy it, the building, the land, our house,” said Gene. Their original dealership was 5,000 square feet including the showroom, paint shop, parts and service. “Our Motorclothes area was a tiny space,” said Brenda. Added Gene, ”We only had about four jackets and some Harley T-shirts. It was all they made then, and we didn’t have the money for a large inventory anyway.”
“Back then,” said Brenda, “we figured if we did $700 a day, we could pay our employees, pay ourselves and pay the bills. Can you believe that?”
“ It kept us alive for a long time,” said Gene — almost 20 years, in fact. They moved to the new building in 2006, renaming the dealership Parkway H-D to emphasize their location to what Gene calls, “The number one road in the whole United States.”
In addition to an expansive showroom and Motorclothes area, Parkway H-D has a convenient service drop-off area and a spacious, bright service section with 15 bays, dyno room and machine shop. A party patio with picnic tables, kitchen facilities and roll-up garage-style doors looks out over a beautiful mountain vista at the back of the building to generously accommodate events and gatherings. The Smoky Mountain H.O.G. Chapter has been affiliated with the dealership since 1988, and their annual Salvation Army Toy Run is the largest in the state.
So, according to conventional wisdom, Parkway H-D has filled all the requirements of a great motorcycle shop, plus one significant addition: authenticity. As Brenda Lummus told me, “No one works harder than Gene. He’s put his heart and soul into this.”