History roars to life at Russ' Ocean State Harley-Davidson

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Many must traverse Jefferson Boulevard to get to work, but if you stick solely to the main drag you may miss some exciting, hidden businesses operating just enough off the beaten path.

Mayor Joseph Solomon paid a visit to one of those businesses as part of his One-on-One Business program on Tuesday afternoon, as he got a tour of Russ' Ocean State Harley-Davidson – a family-run business with over 30 years of history in Warwick located on Albany Road in the former Artistic Laces Mill, where lace for Victoria’s Secret products was once produced.

And while it's certainly a fun bit of irony that a facility that for years manufactured material for the most feminine of products now serves as a one-stop shop for one of most iconic American tough guy brands, what’s more interesting is the sheer volume of wholly unique items – new and old – that is now confined within its walls

Russ' Ocean State Harley-Davidson is a place that stays true to its roots. Right next to the main showroom, glittering with Harley-Davidson merchandise and pristine new motorcycles of all varieties and colors, hangs dainty lace delicates – an homage to the products once churned out here. The wood paneling adorning the wall immediately behind them came from a Revolutionary War veteran’s barn.

In fact, peppered throughout the 33,800 square-foot facility is living history. Literally, owner Amy Bishop and her husband Dana, along with first generation owners (and Amy’s parents) Russ and Barbara Hampton, have adorned the entire place with functioning antiques.

From the refurbished shoe shining station taken from the Second Providence Train Station, which operated from 1890 until just after World War II, to the 1927 refrigerator that still holds food and lunches for employees, to the functioning (and utilized) antique cash register and coin counter/separator from 1914 and 1916 respectively, a tour through the dealership is unlike any other you’ll experience – it’s more akin to a guided tour of a well-polished, leather-scented museum.

Solomon was, in his words, like a kid in a candy shop. A self-ascribed gearhead, Solomon chatted with Dana about the classic 1928 bike put on display in a mock garage space, complete with a period biker outfit and a refurbished air compressor (painted Harley-Davidson orange), along with countless tools from decades past. Later in the tour he got the chance to hop behind the handlebars of a large red Harley, his eyes lighting up, truly, like a child on his first bicycle.

“This is a gem in our community,” he said continuously throughout the visit. “A specialized gem.”

A large break room empties into another gathering space with glassily polished wooden tables and more merchandise. A giant television dominates the room, but it too has a purpose. The shop partners with the Community College of Rhode Island to hold video safety classes for people to acquire their motorcyclists license. Once the class work is done, cyclists can take the driving exam on the school’s large campus.

Back in the main showroom, Amy describes how there are eight different sets of employees – they employ about 40 people permanently – who have familial relationships with other employees. It’s a palpable family connection that Solomon praised in particular.

“I love the bikes, I love the place, I love the business,” he said to Barbara, who works as the sales director. “But what I love most is the fact it’s something that you and your husband started and is continuing on to the next generation.”

After doling out some free merchandise to the mayor and some of his staff that tagged along for the visit – little coasters styled to look like a rotary caution sign that read “Home of the Apponator” with the roads formed into a large question mark – Solomon was totally enchanted, vowing he would get the image blown up and adorned in his office.

“If I get stressed out over at City Hall can I come hang out with you guy?” he asked.

Russ’ Ocean State Harley-Davidson is located at 35 Albany Road in Warwick. It was originally located near the airport since the shop opened in 1988, moving once to a building across the street from its current location. It moved into its current spot about two years ago, and it took seven months of renovations to get the shop into its current state.

The business operates a second, smaller facility in Exeter, and a third unrelated Harley-Davidson dealership operates in Pawtucket. You can browse some of their products at OceanStateHD.com or visit them on Facebook.

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