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How I Made It: Bruce Meyer's road to success from candle wax to classic cars

Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

LOS ANGELES -- Bruce Meyer was a long-haired hippie, just graduated from UC Berkeley, when he suggested that his family expand their Gearys gift boutique to include candles and a mail order business. That began a retail revolution that made Gearys one of the premiere Beverly Hills shopping destinations, and fueled Meyer's decades-long obsession with cars that led to the founding of the Petersen Automotive Museum.

THE SECRET LIFE OF A RIDER AND RACER

Automobiles were not in Meyer's blood. His grandparents never owned cars, he says, and his parents thought they were a waste of time and money.

But the impressionable young man grew up near the old Art Center College of Design campus in Hancock Park. Many of the students were GIs just returned from the war. They all drove hot rods, which imprinted heavily on Meyer. He decided he'd own one, someday.

Still, his first motor vehicle was a motorcycle -- a 1950s BSA scrambler that he bought for $100 and kept hidden in a friend's garage. Soon he was sneaking out on the weekends to race, keeping his hobby a secret from his disapproving parents.

"They knew nothing about it," Meyer says. "I was the perfect son. I never got into trouble. I obeyed. I worked hard. So I couldn't let them know about the motorcycles."

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Meyer always had side jobs. He remembers selling the Hollywood Citizen-News from the grass median at the corner of Highland and Melrose avenues, and adding $3 a week to his regular 50-cent allowance.

At Berkeley, where he got a bachelor's degree in business, he bussed tables, tended bar and had a gig selling embossed stationery to sororities. Then he discovered that the university would extend interest-free student loans to undergraduates. Meyer borrowed money, bought motorcycles, raced them on the weekends, and then sold them for a profit.

EDUCATION OF A YOUNG RETAILER

After Berkeley, and a couple of seasons bartending in Lake Tahoe, Meyer came home.

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