INDIANAPOLIS, IND., OCT 20–The October 1947 purchase of John Morgan’s Indianapolis Harley-Davidson dealership by George Schulteti was one man’s dream come true. Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and working for The Motor Company, George yearned to own his own motorcycle business. The war was over and the time was right to make the move south to Indianapolis. How proud he would have been this past October when the shop celebrated 65 years in business.
The accomplishment is even more impressive when you realize the ownership is still in the same family, with third- and fourth-generation members working there to this day. The motorcycle business has changed drastically in 65 years and none more so than Harley-Davidson. Dealerships have come and gone with the highs and lows of the economy, but Southside Harley-Davidson is still serving their customers and continuing what George started so long ago.
The yearly anniversary celebration is highlighted every five years with a little extra flair. 2007 brought Willie G. and Nancy Davidson down to Indianapolis to help celebrate their 60th by signing autographs. In 2012 Willie G. retired from his daily duties at The Motor Company, but the Schulteti family was able to coax him into making a return appearance to mark the occasion.
When I arrived at the dealership that morning, the temperature was a brisk 45 degrees after overnight rain. Few bikes were in the parking lot, but the line was already forming for the autographs and pictures from Willie G. and Nancy. They weren’t even scheduled to be there for another hour. I got in line and didn’t wait too long before a police motorcycle escort roared by and made their way into the lot. What a grand entrance for the honored guests.
Time passed quickly and before long, the smiling pair was escorted to the stage to greet the waiting crowd. Willie told us they only had a limited time there as they were planning on meeting up with Jay Leno in California for the annual Love Ride. The happy crowd was glad they made the stop to celebrate the milestone in Indy. The line moved quickly as everyone was told that one item only would be signed. Vests, jackets and hats were brought by several people and some carried actual bike parts and books for the valued signatures.
Just like five years ago in 2007, one guy approached and placed his attached prosthetic leg on the table for Willie G. to sign again, this time on the opposite side. Greetings were exchanged, the unusual signing was reminisced and, while walking away, I told them I would see them again in five years. Yes, that guy is me and I wear the signatures daily with pride.
Along with the autograph session, the Marlin James Band took the stage to play a mix of country and rock for the masses. The parking lot was now full of bikes and the sunshine warmed the air to a more comfortable 58 degrees. If you drove a car you had to park elsewhere and walk, as they only let bikes in the lot for their big events. Sales were booming inside the store with the usual percentage discounts on parts, accessories and MotorClothes.
The food tents opened at 11:30 a.m. with one covering the food line and the larger of the two over the numerous tables and chairs where attendees sat and ate their lunch. Free food is always a staple at Southside’s events. Two birthday cakes were sliced up for everyone to enjoy and they were nicely decorated with their 65th anniversary logo, courtesy of a local bakery.
Festivities continued inside the store when local artists Pete Brown and Ben Olson held an unveiling of their eight, large-format historical paintings. These were hung high around the showroom mezzanine and each one was unveiled by a Southside family member. The pair explained their work to the standing room-only crowd. The artwork pays tribute to the history of the dealership and Harley-Davidson through the decades. The yearlong painting process was done at various dealer events, and their work was also chronicled on time-lapse videos on their YouTube channel.
The outside sidewalk of the building was lined with vintage collectible bikes owned by the dealership. Willie G. took the time to look over the collection with owner Bob Schulteti on his way out of town. Among them was a 1971 Boat Tail Super Glide. The design was Willie G.’s first with The Motor Company, and he even took the time to autograph the back tail section, per Bob’s request. You don’t see too many of them anymore. Adjacent to the row of bikes was an area where visitors could get free 65th handouts. Large fabric tote bags emblazoned with the 65th anniversary logo were passed out with more freebies inside. My favorite was the orange plastic cup that is heat sensitive. It turns white with warm liquids or even the touch of your hand. It, too, carried the logo.
Before I knew it, the honored guests were escorted out and headed to the airport and the corporate jet for the trip to the West Coast. The food ran out, the band went silent and bikes began pulling out. An event at Southside Harley-Davidson is a full day of fun and the 65th Anniversary Party was another great time celebrating with the owners. You don’t stay in this business for that long unless you truly love what you are doing.