JOHN GRIFFIN PHOTO
Steve LoBasso of Eastport shows off his 1956 Ford Sunliner most every week at Wading River Cruise Night in the King Kullen shopping center. The weekly get-together has been going on for six years now.
A group of classic car enthusiasts featured in last week’s News-Review may soon be forced to find a new home for their weekly gatherings.
Joe DeMonte, one of the regulars at Wading River Cruise Night, said he received a call from Riverhead Police Thursday informing him that the group would no longer be welcome at the King Kullen shopping center where they’ve been meeting for the past six years. The phone call came on the same day our story was first published.
“It would be sad if it had to come to an end on Thursday nights,” said Mr. DeMonte, who has participated in Cruise Night since its creation. “A lot of people have gotten used to this spot and many families enjoy it.”
The phone call came after the property owner contacted police to say he was concerned because the informal gathering was not organized by an insured club. He also said tenants of the property have complained that the group takes up too many parking spaces when they meet from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. each Thursday in the warm weather months.
“They are all very nice people and I have nothing against them personally,” said Charles Serota, who has owned the property for three decades. “It’s just a matter of business.”
Despite the warning, about a dozen Cruise Night members stuck to the tradition Thursday, filling the lot with classic cars. That’s something they might not be allowed to do much longer.
Riverhead Police said this week that if the group continues to meet, as they say they intend to do, members will be asked to leave. But Lt. David Lessard said he doesn’t plan on having any of the cars towed.
“The situation is unfortunate,” Lt. Lessard said. “There hasn’t been any problems reported until now.”
But Jesse Swenk, co-owner of Family Fitness at Wading River Health Club, said he’s heard his share of complaints from clients concerned about a lack of parking when the group meets. He suggested the club meet in another, less crowded portion of the parking lot.
“It’s just the parking,” he said. “If they move down the lot, then I’m all for it.”
Wading River Civic Association first vice president Sid Bail, who called the situation “disheartening,” suggested the group consider instead meeting in the portion of the parking lot between King Kullen and CVS, where parking spaces are often vacant.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, who said he too is a fan of classic cars, suggested a more drastic change when contacted this week. He said he plans to attend the next Wading River Cruise Night to encourage participants to consider meeting instead in downtown Riverhead.
“I would love to have them come over to downtown Riverhead,” he said. “They could meet at the river-front parking area.”
But not everyone wants to see the group move so far away. Scott McMillan, who owns Bella Gusto restaurant across the street, said he appreciates not only the business the group brings to his establishment but also the setting all the classic cars parked together provides.
“I think it’s a nice thing for the town,” he said. “Its Americana. A lot of towns don’t have that.”
Mr. McMillan said he wished his parking lot was big enough for him to ask his landlord to host the event there.
“I would love to have that problem — having too many people in my parking lot wandering around,” Mr. McMillan said. “What business doesn’t want foot traffic?”
Of course there’s still the issue of liability.
To ease the property owner’s concerns, Cruise Night regular Sandy Fabricotore, said he’s reaching out to a company that specializes in classic auto insurance to see if it can provide a rider for the cruise night. He said first, however, the group must become an official club.
“Everybody and anybody that comes would have to be a member,” he said “And that’s where the fly in the ointment is.”
Mr. DeMonte said he sees both sides of the dispute, but he hopes after years of meeting in the same place without issue, the group can continue to call the parking lot home.
“The owner of the shopping center has a valid point,” he said. “It’s his responsibility because he owns the parking lot — that’s understandable — but hopefully something can be worked out.”