Motorcycle dealers to ride into the sunset
WINTERSVILLE — John and Kim Neidengard said preparing for the Feb. 27 closing of their 115-year-old family business is a bittersweet experience.
After selling Harley-Davidson motorcycles and related gear to hundreds of area residents, they are looking forward to spending more time riding together on the road and visiting their adult children and grandchildren.
But the couple of 23 years said they will miss seeing their regular customers, working with others to organize poker runs that have raised thousands for charity and carrying on a legacy culminating in the state’s oldest family-owned Harley-Davidson dealership.
Kim admitted she became a motorcycle fan after meeting John 28 years ago, noting his love of cycling started at an early age.
“I worked here probably since I was 12,” said John, who noted it was common for children in family-run businesses to help out “as soon as you were old enough.”
“As soon as I graduated from high school, I went to full time,” he said, adding he never thought of doing anything else.
John said in that regard, he was much like his father, John F., who had worked for his father, G.H. Neidengard, a machinist who opened the family’s first motorcycle shop at 137 South Third, Steubenville.
John said G.H. was a friend of the first Steubenville man to own a motorcycle and quickly fell in love with them.
Early motorcycles were little more than bicycles with motors, noted John, but they offered low-cost transportation at a time before Henry Ford’s Model T made automobiles affordable to most people.
They also were a form of entertainment, as motorcycle enthusiasts participated in hillclimbs and races that, in the days before radio and television, drew many spectators.
John said the first shop was quite large, with second story apartments available for rent and garage bays rented to the city for its vehicles.
Before it was torn down, a former employee salvaged and restored the first wooden step leading to its parts department. It and photos of G.H. and his family, including a very young John F., are displayed in the current location in Wintersville.
After taking over the business in the late 1930s, John F. built the store on Canton Road in 1978.
John said of working for his father, “I was here practically every day and I just absorbed what I saw him doing.”
Kim said her husband, as a teen, immersed himself in motorcycles in the same way some enjoy sports. She added there’s a story of him falling asleep while assembling a bike at the store.
“I just liked what I was doing and wanted to see it done,” said John, adding “What do they say? If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“Like anything, it’s had its ups-and-downs,” he said.
John noted his grandfather and father struggled through the Great Depression and World War II, when many materials used in motorcycles were reserved for the military.
“My father had to find used tires to sell,” he noted.
The Neidengards said their most pleasant memories of the business will be the many bike runs they sponsored, with help from many members of the local chapter of the Harley Owners Group, to raise funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Wounded Warrior Project.
They noted Harley-Davidson Inc. is a strong supporter of both charities.
Begun in 1996, the annual MDA runs raised more than $500,000 for the cause, while two runs for the Wounded Warrior Project netted more than $25,000.
The Neidengards noted about 1,300 bikers turned out for the 2002 MDA run, while others drew more than 1,000.
They expressed appreciation to the many participants, including some who planned vacations around them, as well as their many customers over the years.
“We realize the business couldn’t have gotten where it is if not for all of our customers over the years and their loyalty,” said Kim.
Since announcing the closing in late January, the Neidengards have been visited by many long-time patrons.
Among them was Bruce White of Weirton, who said when he was a teen, John’s father offered tips on maintaining his bike and lent him tools.
“John worked very hard for his father,” said White, who added he will miss the shop after coming there for nearly 60 years.
Bill Donahoe of Steubenville said he’s purchased bikes there he used to win regional racing competitions in 1989 and 1990.
“Everybody knows Johnny. He’s a good man,” Donahoe said, adding, “They’re great people. I hate to see them go.”
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)