Concord’s Harley-Davidson is riding into the sunset

  • A motorcyclist and rider pass in front of the Heritage Harley-Davidson sign on Manchester Street on Friday. The store will be closing next week after 37 years in business. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A motorcyclist passes in front of the Heritage Harley-Davidson sign on Manchester Street on Friday. The store will be closing next week after 37 years in business. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 9/26/2020 1:52:35 PM

Sometimes, the veteran general manager stopped in mid-sentence, pausing, clearing his throat, trying and failing to hide his sorrow.

Other times, Andy Segalini didn’t even bother beginning a thought, his sadness over the closing of Heritage Harley-Davidson on Manchester Street still tough to accept.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Segalini said Friday by phone. “We’re the oldest dealer in New Hampshire. We’ve been a staple in the community and we’ve done a lot for different organizations. It’s sad to see that leave Concord.”

Its final day is Wednesday, after 37 years. Segalini, who’s worked there for nearly three decades, made that clear, telling me, “We’re selling to an organization that’s not going to continue the business.”

Published reports have said the Concord dealership was sold to Paul Veracka, who opened a Harley-Davidson branch nine years ago in Billerica, Mass., and has since expanded to five other franchises, in Florida, Michigan and Manchester, N.H.

Not Concord. It’s unclear what’ll move into the site at 142 Manchester St.

The Manchester business was purchased nearly a year ago. Ironically, Segalini said the shop here was doing well, during tough times nationwide for Harley-Davidson.

An investment to spark production in India was a bust. Plus, Harley-Davidson continues to struggle in its attempt to create a younger market, expanding beyond the aging Baby Boomer generation. The company has not posted retail gains over the past 14 quarters, according to Reuters.

“Speaking for us only, we have been doing great,” Segalini told me. “This year has been very profitable and I feel like the pandemic actually helped our business. We exceeded our sales goals and we’re doing great here. But as far as the corporation goes, I have no insight.”

A message for Veracka, left at his Billerica franchise, was not returned.

Meanwhile, the end of Heritage Harley-Davidson is a big blow to riders who have proven to be as loyal as Lassie. They’ll miss the family aspect.

The founder, E.W. Sleeper, died in 1999, but not before equating his surname to riding and charitable work. Segalini worked for Sleeper and said the boss was a man of few words, yet still left his mark on him.

Segalini paused, cleared his throat, paused some more and said, “It’s hard to put into words. He was definitely an individual who did not say much, but when he said it, it left an impact. He was a positive role model.”

Pause.

“I recall Mr. Sleeper hanging out on a Saturday in the showroom, smoking his pipe.”

Sleeper’s daughter, the late Eileen Sleeper, took control and ran things for 20 years. She died suddenly last October at the age of 53.

Here, Segalini’s pause grew longer.

“Driven, ambitious,” Segalini said, referring to Eileen. “She was known for community, helping organizations.”

And public relations. Melody Towle, who’s lived in Penacook for 50 years, began riding in 2010, and now has a touring bike so she and her husband can cruise around the country.

She misses her friend, and she’ll miss what her friend dedicated her life to.

“Eileen was Heritage,” Towle said. “Whenever we went down there, if she was on the showroom floor, she’d come over and talk to you. She knew you by name, like she was an old friend, and she made everyone feel like they were part of the family.”

That’s the Harley-Davidson way. Close-knit bonds. Loyalty, to a club that has always represented freedom with an edge.

“It’s a very sad time for those people and all their customers to lose this business,” Towle said in an email.

Eileen’s obituary noted that she had been named one of the top 20 businesswomen in the state and “was happiest when horsepower was involved, whether it was riding in the show ring, on the road or on the water.”

It’s not clear why Heritage Harley-Davidson was sold after its long family run. Eileen’s brother, Mark Sleeper of Loudon, was unavailable for comment Friday.

Eileen’s cause of death was not mentioned in her obit, which said “she helped many people along her journey. She was a wonderful and loving person who was admired and respected in many ways by people who knew her.”

That included Segalini. He was there before Eileen. He worked two decades for her. Technician, dealership service advisor, service manager, operations manager.

He was named general manager five years ago. He was named president last year.

“I held every position there,” Segalini said. “I was named president when Eileen passed.”

He then paused, cleared his throat and apologized for growing emotional.

“I was like 22 when I started,” Segalini said.




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