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Opinion: Old Skool Dealerships

This story was written by Reg Kittrelle and originally published in American Rider

One of the many things I miss about motorcycle dealerships from the past is the camaraderie at the counter. I’d drop by on the pretext of “needing something” and often stay for a couple of hours.

There was always an enthusiastic conversation to join and usually an area with an old couch, well-read moto-pubs, and bad coffee.

Friendships were made, lies were exchanged, and good humor ruled. The owner usually worked the counter when they weren’t busy wrenching in the back, and family members could be found working in the office, sweeping floors, or washing bikes.

And I always bought something.

Tom Keeble is the proud owner of Barnaby’s and the keeper of the lore. It sounds a bit quaint, doesn’t it? But it used to be the norm. During the 1960s, nearly 60 brands were available, and small dealerships were abundant, varied, and often prosperous—including the one I owned.

After 40 years of business, the owner of The Barnaby Company will retire and Barnaby’s will no longer exist by this time next year. Photo courtesy of Barnaby’s

But today, it seems like small dealerships can no longer survive. You gotta go mega-mall if you want to make it. For me, they are no longer friendly places. As greed has pushed aside friendly conversations, it’s natural to view many dealers as opponents. And if you’d like a fair deal on a motorcycle, you had better learn how to play hardball. I still enjoy visiting dealers because I like motorcycles, but the vibe sucks.

The best part of Barnaby’s is the lively bench racing by attendees of its Wednesday gatherings.

That camaraderie, that vibe – if not the motorcycles themselves – can still be found. Barnaby’s in Santa Clara, California, is about as old skool as you can now find. Inside is a maze of milling machines, lathes, presses, and anything else you might need to fabricate motorcycle parts or even complete motorcycles.

More important is the knowledge that resides with owner Tom Keeble and engine builder Rich Dominguez. Walk through this large building, and you’ll find old, unrestored motorcycles, superbly finished dirt-trackers, refurbished moto-jewels, and a few things that defy description. The walls are plastered with old posters, photos, memorabilia, and autographs.

It’s a cool business on its own, but the real fun is found on Wednesday evenings. For decades, Tom has offered up the hospitality, the space, and the barbecue to whoever wants to stop by. For years, two- and four-wheeled legend Joe Leonard was a regular, often presiding over the grill.

On a recent visit, former Harley-Davidson factory rider Walt Fulton III could be seen jawing with the regulars, including longtime flat-tracker Chris Rudy. Mike Yarn, a dirt-track racer from the 1960s, was also there.


If you are anywhere near Santa Clara on a Wednesday evening, drop by for a memorable experience. But don’t wait too long. Keeble has decided to retire after 40 years in the business, so Barnaby’s will no longer exist by this time next year.

When places like this disappear, so does a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, expertise, and of course, that friendly vibe.

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