BRANDON — Harry and Rosalee Barclay were toiling as defense workers at the Chicago Bridge and Iron shipyard during World War II when they decided to start their own business.
With $500 and a dream, Harry Barclay, who was called "Barney," went to an Indian Motorcycle factory, purchased a bike and brought it back to their Bloomington, Ill., store they named the Wigwam.
The year was 1946 and the couple soon realized motorcycles would sell better in sunny Florida, so they moved near some friends in the small South Florida town of Ojus. Since the tiny town was not large enough to support the business, the couple opened Barney's Motorcycle Sales in the early 1950s on Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg.
Now known as Barney's Motorcycle and Marine, the company is celebrating its 70th anniversary of being in the power sports industry. The Barclays' grandchildren, KC Wood (St. Petersburg) and Todd Hempstead (Brandon), operate two of the locations, while Todd's father, Ray, oversees a third store in Brooksville.
Barney's acquired the Brandon location in 1999 and has expanded it twice — in 2002 and 2009 — adding a watercraft and boat showroom and becoming one of the largest marine dealers in the Southeast. Over the years, the store has sold many brands of motorcycles: AJS, BMW, BSA, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Lambretta Scooters, Norton, Triumph and Zundapp. And now it features Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Can-Am and Sea-Doo at the Brandon location.
"Everything has changed," Wood said. "In the 1970s, we sold more bikes with one store and one line. Now we have three stores with 12 lines. (Watercraft) sure helped us when the industry was at an all-time low during the gas crisis of the 1980s. We took some solid financial hits in inventory, but we did weather it."
Barney's also bounced back from a fire that devastated the St. Petersburg store in the 1990s, made it through the recession at a time when luxury purchases dropped, and declined buyout offers from investors.
"It feels like we are not getting as many new riders as 10 years ago," Todd Hempstead said. "We're seeing a lot of sales in watercraft and ATVs. You look outside and see the sign with your grandfather's name on it and you want to keep going.
"Our reputation means something to us."
The family also built a bit of a name in the racing circuit, which is documented in a museum inside the original store. Ray Hempstead rode a Yamaha TR3 to a second-place finish in the 1972 Daytona 200, while Todd and KC earned state titles racing in Florida.
Barney's has become an alternative to Harley-Davidson, which sits across the street from the Brandon store. Todd Hempstead said riders can find more machinery in the inventory his family carries.
"What (Harley) has done is sold a lifestyle," he said. "When it comes to quality and technology, these are quite a bit more advanced."
For example, he said, the three-wheel Spyders at Barney's feature an easier option for new riders or women who don't want to deal with heavy cruisers because the weight is placed near the front wheels. The super sport bikes include a six-axis gyroscope that measures forces and can automatically stiffen the suspension or provide antiwheelie technology.
At Barney's, you can find "side by sides" — with seats next to each other — for mudding, utility work, hunting or ranching, as well as motocross and mini bikes starting at 50 cc for kids. Adventure touring bikes and dual purpose motorcycles for trail and street hybrid riding also are popular.
The Barney family business has grown to nearly 100 employees, but lost an icon last month when Beverley Jean Newton, one of two daughters of founders Barney and Rosalee, died after battling cancer. The family owners say the business might end up in the hands of a fourth generation if they can keep the successful ride going.
"Motorcycles can get in your blood and you can't get it out," Todd Hempstead said.
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