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Fire won't idle motorcycle store

Barney's, on Gandy Boulevard, has been tested before.

By PIPER JONES CASTILLO

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 2000


When Rosalee Barclay Johnson, along with her first husband, Barney Barclay, moved their motorcycle business from Illinois, their storefront was a tavern on Gandy Boulevard.

"It was an old bar, and the weeds were up higher than the windows," Barclay Johnson, 79, remembers.

The family cut the weeds and renovated the bar into a storefront. The 57-year-old Barney's Motorcycle Sales, now a multimillion-dollar motorcycle and motorcraft retailer, has survived burglaries, recessions, hurricanes and being virtually paved over when the modern-day Gandy Boulevard came through.

On June 25, a lightning bolt struck electrical lines, causing a fire at 10411 Gandy Blvd. that gobbled up $2-million worth of property. It did little to the heart and soul of Barney's, though.

For now, a 2,000-square-foot tent, equipped with two air conditioners, holds Barney's showroom. Although the parts department was virtually destroyed, inside customers can still peruse the display of motorcycles and motorcrafts.

Barney's was able to open the day after the fire when the 50 employees scrambled in the summer heat to regain control. "We were up and running on Monday, and we had 50-unit sales that week," Barclay Johnson says.

During the first week after the fire, the sales department operated without land-line telephones, fax service and printers programmed for preprinted order forms. Technicians worked without tools or brought replacement tools from home. An office area was created after the original office, above the parts showroom, fell through the first floor.

It will take more than a year to rebuild, says Barclay Johnson, who is now listed as vice president of the company. She says she handed the reins to her daughter, Beverly Hempstead Newton, and Ray Hempstead a few years ago.

Along with the help of loyal employees, Barclay Johnson appreciates the generosity of Barney's neighbors. "Many people have been so nice. Chick-Fil-A brought us 70 sandwiches over one day. Mercantile Bank sent lunch another day, and Pizza Paradise has sent pizzas."

Barney Barclay died in 1970, but the family has always planned to keep pushing his namesake company into the future. Along with his daughter and wife holding officer positions at the company, his grandson, K.C. Wood, is treasurer and manages the Brandon store.

"Dad was the mechanic end of the business," says Hempstead Newton. "He would have been overwhelmed and happy things are working out for us now, but he would have expected us to follow through after the fire. There are strong roots here."

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