By Anthony Montalto | November 30, 2020
LAKE CHARLES, La. — Billy Doherty grew up in the oldest Harley Davidson dealership in Louisiana. Built in 1929 and purchased by the Doherty family 49 years ago, the Lake Charles dealership is a testament to traditions old and new.
“My parents bounced around. They had a few other businesses and then they wound up finding this, purchasing this,” Doherty said. “They built a legacy over here. And I’m trying to continue it.”
Billy now co-owns the dealership with his mother. He’s seen it all there: a new addition, the building of a new parts and service department and more. But from inside the showroom adorned with gleaming motorcycles and clothing items galore, he’s also seen plenty of hurricanes. In fact, the Doherty family has ridden out hurricanes in the store for years, including Category 3 Hurricane Rita, which ravaged Southwest Louisiana in 2005.
“It was like a cat squalling for 14 hours,” Doherty said.
During Hurricane Laura, the Dohertys repeated their tradition: Billy and his mother went to the showroom to ride out the storm. They didn’t expect it to intensify as much as it did, and by the time they knew it would be so strong, it was too late to leave. They did the best they could to secure their homes, then made their way to the shop.
“My mom was crying because just two months before the hurricane, we lost my dad. She was crying because my dad and my mom built all this business and she felt like she was losing everything,” he said.
Doherty says if they hadn’t been in the store that night, they would have lost it all.
It was like a cat squalling for 14 hours.
“At 2:30 in the morning, the roof came loose in the service and parts department. At 3:00, I was on the roof trying to screw it on, and my mom and my mechanic told me to get off. So I did,” he said.
But before long, the storm picked up again. Then, they heard a noise and instantly knew…
“At 3:30, we lost our roof,” Doherty said.
The dealership is in various states of repair. Doherty pointed out warped wooden shelving units that once lined the walls of the service department. Inside the service center, technicians work by the light of yellow wire construction lamps.
“During Laura, with the roof off, all this got soaked. The ceiling was falling in,” Doherty said about the next room, which is an extension of the service department. It’s gotten a new roof, but remains unfinished and without working lights.
All of that damage occurred before Hurricane Delta, which damaged a dump truck and put a hole in the shop’s front window. Because of that, Billy and his mother like to say, ‘What Laura started, Delta finished.’
The Doherty family’s dealership is one of countless businesses in the area trying to recover. According to Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance President George Swift, 15,000 businesses in the Alliance’s five-parish region have gone to the organization for aid.
“About 6,000 are actually going through with the process of applying to the SBA for loans and disaster recovery money,” he said.
Swift says the region was set for its best economic growth ever in 2020, thanks to new industrial contracts and greater efforts in tourism advertising; but after two hurricanes and a global pandemic, the area, like thousands of others worldwide, has taken a hit. But Swift believes there’s a trick up Southwest Louisiana’s sleeve.
“I don’t think you’ll find an area that will fight any better to come back and rebuild,” Swift said.
Doherty and his mother feel the same, even though they’re both worried about another hurricane.
“This is getting to show what Lake Charles’ base is made of, because it’s Lake Charles strong,” Doherty said.
I don’t think you’ll find an area that will fight any better to come back and rebuild.
In the most trying of times, Lake Charles and all of Southwest Louisiana look toward rebuilding. And while Billy and his mother do the same, there’s another thing on their minds, too: continuing a legacy, one rev at a time.