Even as questions mount over the closure of five Seattle-area motorcycle shops, customers are getting some answers about the BMWs, Ducatis and other high-end bikes they had either paid for or brought in for service.
Last Thursday, the local motorcycle community was stunned to learn that NobleRush, a chain of high-end motorcycle dealerships with locations in Seattle, Redmond, and Auburn, had been shuttered by its owner, Microsoft program manager Howard Crow.
For several days, many customers were unable check on the status of bikes, many of them luxury brands, that had either been paid for or dropped off for service at the NobleRush shops.
Adding to customers’ anxiety were social media posts reporting that truckloads of motorcycles were being hauled off from the shuttered dealerships and that, according to several accounts from former employees, Crow himself was out of the country on Microsoft business. (A call to a cellphone listed for Howard Crow, of Sammamish, was not returned.)
But by Wednesday morning, the story had taken a happier turn.
Several NobleRush customers said they had picked up new bikes from the closed shops while others had received refunds.
Paul Dorn, a 28-year-old Edgewood resident who paid a $4,100 deposit at the NobleRush store in Auburn, said he received a complete refund Wednesday. “I got all the money back,” said a relieved Dorn. He’d feared the worst after visiting the store a day earlier to find the front doors locked and a local financial services firm removing bikes from the darkened showroom. “Half the bikes [were] already gone,” Dorn said.
At other locations, customers said former employees were scrambling to settle sales and refunds.
Angus Norton, a tech worker who had paid for a new Ducati from the Redmond store, said two employees there arranged for him to pick up the $25,000 bike on Sunday. “The staff are all working around the clock for no pay right now, trying to help customers,” said Norton.
The news was slightly less rosy for customers who’d brought in bikes for repairs.
On Wednesday, one former employee said the layoffs of dealerships’ service techs meant customers may get their bikes back “simply in pieces.”
But other area dealers are already stepping in. Roman Lemeshkov, former sales manager at the Lake City Way BMW dealership, said his counterpart at South Sound BMW in Fife had “readily agreed to offer help and support to make sure that our customers are taken care of. We don’t just want to disappear and let them fend for themselves.”
Even as former employees worked to take care of customers, questions have only intensified over the collapse of NobleRush.
Crow, a 22-year Microsoft veteran and avid motorcyclist, began buying up local dealerships seven years ago, starting with the Seattle Ducati dealership and culminating with the acquisition of the huge Hinshaw’s Motorcycle Store in Auburn.
Among local dealers, there was speculation that Crow, 52, who appears to have had little experience in bike sales or marketing, wanted to be region’s low-cost dealer but ended up running out of cash and getting into trouble with his creditors.
According to several customers and former employees, one creditor was Wells Fargo Bank, which financed some of the NobleRush bike inventory as it sat on the dealership floors awaiting sale. A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo confirmed that NobleRush was a client, but declined to elaborate.
Several customers and former employees also said a Seattle company, Turning Point, was involved in collecting unsold bikes from some NobleRush showrooms and also resolving some customers’ inquires.
Reached by phone, Turning Point director Eric Camm said, “We’re working to resolve all of these issues and to help customers recover their property,” but declined further comment.
Although the closing of all five NobleRush stores is a blow to the Puget Sound biking community, that community has already begun mending.
By Wednesday, at least one former NobleRush employee had found a job with a competitor. Customers, though unhappy about the closures, seemed hugely appreciative of the efforts of former employees.
Norton, the Ducati customer, has even set up a GoFundMe site for unemployed NobleRush Ducati staff–a gesture he says fits in with tight nature of the motorcycling community.
“Riding a motorcycle is a risky sport,” said Norton, who adds that he has come to lean heavily on local Ducati staff, especially the mechanics, to make sure his bike is in top shape. “I’ve got a family and he takes care of my bike, so that my bike is safe,” Norton said. “So when something like this happens, we come together.”