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Dealership closure was his signal to open shop

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Customers and employees are still feeling the fallout from the sudden May 13 closure of Auburn’s Harley-Davidson sales and service center off Highway 49. But at least one glimmer of hope is emerging. The shuttering of the 33-year-old business left 15 employees without a job and hundreds of loyal Harley customers looking for new ways to have their two-wheeled “hogs” serviced and repaired. Rocklin is now the closest dealership. For one employee, the closure also signaled an opportunity. Foresthill’s Paul Ogburn said he had kept his head down during the days and weeks of rumors circulating around him as he worked as the dealership’s master technician. But he and his wife, Ashley, were also concerned enough to start discussing his “exit strategy.” Ogburn, who worked at Auburn Harley-Davidson for 10 years, had dreams of opening his own shop – one that would work on not only Harley cycles but also all-terrain vehicles and dirt-bikes he’d grown up with on the red-dirt trails of Foresthill. So when his work was completed at the North Auburn shop, he weighed offers from a couple of other nearby dealerships and then decided to open his own shop. Oggy Performance is now in business off Foresthill Road. Ogburn said he’s optimistic about both his venture and the state of his old employer during financial hard times. “The future of Harley-Davidson is great,” Ogburn said. “They have an icon for a name and people can pick out that Harley sound. As a corporation, they’re going to be set for awhile.” “Even in a bad economy, people don’t want to give up their toys,” added Ashley Ogburn. “They’ll forgo dinners out, vacations, to keep their bike.” Harley-Davidson was able to eke out a profit last year, although it was down 30 percent from the year before – at $655 million on revenue of $5.6 billion. Production this year is expected to peak at about 270,000 motorcycles. The Auburn Harley-Davidson closure was symptomatic of a slump throughout the nation that is leaving motorcycle riders with tough decisions based on their own financial situations. Mark Hinkle, who sells motorcycle garb at Old Town’s Mother’s Leather, said he’s not riding at the moment, and he’s hearing from others who are making the same choice because of expenses. “It’s too expensive to have two vehicles,” Hinkle said. “A lot of people own bikes as a hobby and with the seasons we have here, they’re going for one vehicle.” Harley has a reputation as a survivor and is now being tested by the nationwide squeeze in cash for loans. The 106-year-old company survived the Depression of the 1930s and overcame a sharp drop in sales in the 1980s, when offshore competitors Kawasaki and Honda became dominant in the U.S. market. Russ Stein, one of the Auburn Harley-Davidson customers left in the lurch last May, is banking on Ogburn and Harley-Davidson to emerge strong from the current slump. “I always insisted he work on my bike,” Stein said. “So it’s great for a lot of guys who have bikes up here, dirt as well as Harleys.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.