Anyone who was passing through the town of Rocky Mount on Saturday night may have thought they’d traveled back in time with all the classic cars cruising through downtown.
A steady stream of vehicles traveled through town and hundreds parked at Schewels Plaza throughout the evening. In mid-August, a Facebook group “Crusin Rocky Mount Va” was created, and in three weeks’ time, the page garnered more than 2,100 members, many of whom attended the inaugural cruise.
A committee of five members, including Jeff Rakes, Ronald Campbell, Kimberly Najduch, Fred Jamison and Rocky Mount Council member Jon Snead, organized the event.
Snead said the committee was “ecstatic” about the event.
“It was completely awesome,” he said. “Three weeks ago this was not even thought of.”
He added bringing people in front of the businesses in Rocky Mount was a goal of the event.
“We have a survey on the Facebook site, and so far, we have received 280 responses,” Snead said. “Of those 280, 203 said they visited restaurants in town.”
Feedback from the survey was largely positive, he said, even regarding traffic flow. Due to the overwhelming number of vehicles traveling through, town police monitored traffic lights and switched some to flashing to allow traffic to flow easier.
Hundreds of vehicles of all shapes and sizes filled the Schewels Plaza parking lot, which was one of the designated meeting spots.
“The biggest thing we don’t want to do is make this a car show,” Snead said, explaining the 40 West area was the busiest and most traveled area. He said there wasn’t as much traffic on the other side of town.
Marvin Lynch, owner of Cars & Classics on Six Mile Post Road in Rocky Mount, said it was the busiest he had seen the area in a “long time.” Lynch brought his 1955 Chevrolet 210 to the cruising event.
Area business owners also were happy with the event. Bryan Hochstein, owner of Rocky Mount Burger Company, said the restaurant had its second biggest night since the downtown restaurant opened two years ago.
He added the restaurant had patrons from Salem, Roanoke and even farther, including seeing vehicles with North Carolina tags. He said he hopes to have live music during the next Cruisin’ Rocky Mount event, in addition to the dinner specials he ran this time.
Kitty Plybon, whose daughter, Pam Gabriel owns home decor shop Perfectly Picked, said they too experienced an increase in business during the event.
“I would love to see more events like that in town,” Plybon said. “It will make it grow.”
She also credited the show at The Harvester on Saturday night for the extra patrons.
While Rocky Mount Burger Company was slammed, Twin Creeks Distillery tasting room manager Joni Bowman said they took in overflow from the restaurant.
“We had two large groups of families and friends, like 10 to 12 people, including kids,” Bowman said. “Both of our groups came in while they were waiting on a table at the burger company.”
However, she said it wasn’t the cruisers that were their customer base, but the crowds who gathered along the streets of downtown to watch the cars as they cruised by.
“We are at a great location to watch the cruisers because of the intersection,” she said. “We had customers from 5 p.m. on without a break.”
Bowman said she hopes to add a tent and have music out front of the tasting room for the next event.
“It makes it fun for people driving around when people were outside of their businesses,”she added.
David Arrington, owner of the Rocky Mount Bojangles and Dairy Queen restaurants, said he too, was pleased with the influx of business.
“We had a super good night at the Dairy Queen,” Arrington said, adding the restaurant more than doubled its revenue for a Saturday night. He said Bojangles didn’t see as big an influx in business.
Arrington was out cruising, too, in his 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, which he said was his original car.
“We used to do this,” he said of cruising. “It is what we did on Friday and Saturday nights, circle town.”
Reviving the old cruising tradition was the other goal of the cruising committee.
“It brought back a lot of memories,” said Betty Walker, who teaches nursing at Carilion in Rocky Mount. Betty cruised through town in her father, Bobby Walker’s, 1941 Ford pickup truck.
“I never thought I would be cutting town with my dad,” she added with a smile.
The pickup truck has a 1944 frame and 2005 Dodge Magnum Hemi engine. The truck was a special project for Bobby with his grandson, Byron. The pair worked on restoring the truck during Byron’s senior year of high school in 2013-14. Bobby, who lives in Endicott, takes the truck to local car shows in Franklin County. He said he learned of the event from Betty, and they, along with Bobby’s wife, Brenda, cruised through town.
While many learned of the event through social media, others just happened upon it. Joe and Barb Wlodarczyk were on their way to their Henry County home with their son, Hunter, after participating in the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb in Roanoke when they noticed all the classic cars cruising through town and joined in. Joe and Hunter are Collinsville firefighters and both own old vehicles — and old pickup and an old Ford Bronco they plan to fix up and bring to the next Cruisin’ Rocky Mount event on Oct. 5.
The event is planned for the first Saturday of the month in October and November. The cruises will put the brakes on during the winter months but start again next April.