The pros of cruising downtown outweigh the cons | Opinion

I understand. I really do.

All those cars on the road, all those blocked streets – that can be a problem.

Given that I do the monthly previews on Somernites Cruise, which has been part of the Somerset landscape for over two decades now, it would probably make my life easier to say nothing but glowing things about the event. After all, I have to talk to the people who make this happen – and I can be absolutely honest in saying that they are good-hearted, hard-working people who are dedicated to putting on the best possible event as volunteers, paid only by the community. the pride and congratulations of the visitors.

I couldn’t be honest, though, if I act like I’m someone who hasn’t been irritated by elements of the classic, custom car show – which takes place once a month, seven consecutive months per year. I lived in a downtown apartment and tried to sleep many Saturdays, only to be jolted from my dream by the sounds of the Monotones singing, “Tell me, tell me, tell me, oh, who wrote the book of love? ” (It was Vātsyāyana. There, settled.) Then, trying to leave my driveway in my car, I found myself blocked by cruise passengers sitting there in lawn chairs looking at me, the guy in the car, with a confused look like, “What is this guy trying to do?”

So I understand.

And in the age of social media, the grunts that used to take place at home or in the coffee shop are louder than ever. As usual on Saturday, I saw Facebook gossiping about the inconvenience posed by the presence of Somernites downtown. A day or two later I noticed a Change.org pop-up petition: “Act now: move the Somernites cruise to a larger, more accessible area.”

As you can imagine, this topic has generated a host of opinions and observations. And although the petition appears to be closed, since I last clicked on it on Monday afternoon, the issue it raises cannot be dismissed out of hand. Is there a location in Somerset that would be better suited to host the Motor Show? Is there a solution that provides greater benefit to all parties involved? These are valid questions.

The thing is, I think the answer to both is…no.

To put a finer point, if we are going to have a Somernites cruise it is better suited to Somerset town center than anywhere else.

What the downtown surroundings offer the event is character. A car park is indeed perfectly suited to accommodate many cars, and you can find this type of car park, for example, at the Rural Development Center or at SomerSport Park. (The water park is probably out, at least in the summer months.) But otherwise, they’re bland areas. SomerSport is too far from the center of the action. The Center lot offers little more than a view of a tall building and the highway. The same could be said for the Somerset Mall. (And anyone who uses these locations for their normal purposes would likely be inconvenienced, as well as those performing daily chores downtown.)

But people love charming little towns. They like energy. They love architecture. They love window displays. They like fountains, public squares and public benches. That’s what being in downtown Somerset provides the cruise and those who attend – a small-town American feel. Heat. Staff. Full of character.

And – this is important – we finally have a downtown that really, really delivers that feeling. Downtown Somerset has more character than it has in a long, long time.

For much of the Cruise’s existence, the downtown area was quite… let’s say “sparse”. Insurance companies and law firms don’t do much for the interest of visitors. There may have been a place for lunch here or there, but following the migration of businesses to US 27, downtown Somerset suffered for years compared to other Kentucky communities like Danville or Bardstown.

But today? Today we have some great restaurants sitting just steps away from the car stalls. We have watering holes ready to serve thirsty customers who want to talk about their custom Chevy Tri-Five over a glass of craft beer (or maybe Horse Soldier Bourbon). We have stores where people can buy current or vintage fashion, unique gifts or delicious sweets. Very soon, we’ll have a working Virginia Theater in the middle of it all – for years all cruise goers could see was a ramshackle shell of the old cinema me.

Why move the cruise now, when we can finally show our community in the right way?

Many people have made an effort to revitalize downtown, from government to entrepreneurs to the chamber of commerce, and I don’t know what role the Somernites played in that, but I’m sure there’s had some consideration to what those annual motor show visitors saw when they visited Somerset. It certainly provided some inspiration to make Somerset city center a better place to live, work and watch cars.

And these new businesses benefit from cruise traffic. After the downtown show, the action is still on the US 27 strip, and businesses lining the freeway, mostly chains and franchises, will take advantage. But for a few hours on Saturday, the focus is on local shops and downtown restaurants. Moving the cruise would take away their chance to make a profit and give almost all of that business to the big corporations of the 27. We would go from the two beneficiaries to only the less vulnerable of the two beneficiaries. Not a good compromise.

I can’t see the cruise anywhere other than downtown. I don’t see that the event itself would be any better anywhere else, and I don’t see that local businesses would be better off.

The only people who would theoretically be better off – regardless of the economic impact of cruising and how it helps the community as a whole – would be people who live and commute downtown and have jobs. office workers who don’t directly benefit cruise visitors.

And these are the people who would like it to be moved. I understand. I did notice though that I haven’t seen as much consternation about food truck festivals or New Years Eve or things like that, which also cause downtown streets to be closed for an event.

The reason, I’m sure, is that they are much fewer in number and more widely spaced out, rather than every fourth Saturday from April to October. And food (and partying) probably has a broader appeal than classic cars, much more of a niche interest.

That’s why I say if we’re going to have the cruise, it should be downtown. I’m sure some would say: do we finally need it? There are those who simply do not care about anything related to the car. There are those who would not miss it. And these views are valid.

But I think we’re better off with that. I think we are better off with those out of town dollars coming into our community, especially during months like April and October when lake tourism is not at its peak. I think we better promote our downtown, giving public businesses a chance to not only make some extra money, but also increase their word of mouth – ‘Oh, I’ve eaten in the best small restaurant in Somerset. And then I found the cutest top in this store which was right there…”

Do you hear that voice in your head? This is what we want people to say when they visit Somerset. That’s what will keep them coming back, and maybe even bring more people here.

And Somernites Cruise does. And has been doing it for 22 years, even when there just wasn’t much to show for downtown.

I walked into the mall bookstore this weekend and picked up a guide to Kentucky sights. Somerset was mentioned twice in the book – and one was for its status as “Car Cruise Capital of Kentucky”. Somernites inspired the way other communities hold their car shows and helped put our community on the map, so to speak – and, literally, in the book.

I don’t always like waking up to 50s songs blaring outside my window or hitting blocks when I try to walk down the street. But I love living in a thriving community with thriving entrepreneurs. And if having Somernites Cruise downtown helps with that, then this is the place to be.

David H. Henry