Spurned car lovers take to the riverfront

Gearheads gathered in downtown Riverhead last Thursday after their weekly impromptu car show, Wading River Cruise Night, was booted from the King Kullen shopping center in Wading River.

Chased from their home of six years in Wading River, about a dozen classic car lovers gathered on the paved banks of the Peconic River in downtown Riverhead last Thursday for an impromptu car show.

Bill Mango, who rolled up in a black cherry 1946 Ford, said the river, benches and picnic tables behind East Main Street “were all in the plus column.” But, he said, the main reason he liked the spot was that he felt welcome.

“I think it’s an ideal location,” he said. “I just hope it takes off here.”

The scene was a lot different at the King Kullen shopping center in Wading River, where signs that read “no car shows” now line the parking lot. A police officer patrolled the area to make sure no one was found lingering in classic cars.

Lee Colon, a retired police officer from Ridge, parked his restored car anyway and had begun to read a newspaper when two other car enthusiasts walked over to read one of the signs that had gone up the week before.

“They look like they’ve lost their best friend,” Mr. Colon said.

Some others who showed soon left Wading River and headed for downtown Riverhead, where Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter has welcomed the group with open arms.

“I can’t wait to start a weekly cruise night in downtown Riverhead,” said Mr. Walter, who extended the invitation last month. He said he’s even been talking to business leaders about booking some 1950s- and 1960s-style bands to play at the weekly events.

Ron Tallon started Wading River Cruise Night — an informal gathering for showcasing cars — in 2004. He died a few years ago, but Cruise Night lived on outside King Kullen.

Last month, however, following a story in the News-Review, property owner Charles Serota ordered the car enthusiasts to leave, citing complaints from tenants that they were taking up too many parking spaces.

Mr. Serota had also expressed concerns about liability issues because the event isn’t run through an organized club. Car owners have resisted forming such a club, citing costs and tradition.

Then the signs were erected.

Last week, the same signs appeared at the King Kullen shopping center in Eastport, where Mr. Serota is also the property owner, making for a bleak future for the two-year-old tradition of a Wednesday cruise night there.

“It’s been a nice and positive get together,” said Billy Wandolowski, owner of the Eastport Deli. “Anybody who owns a classic car takes care of it better than they take care of their own health.”

Mr. Wandolowski, who said he’s enjoyed displaying his 1969 Dodge Charger and 1957 Mustang, believes liability was a trigger for Mr. Serota to shut down the Eastport cruise night, because parking was never an issue. Mr. Serota couldn’t be reached for comment.

And while Wading River gearheads appear prepared to take Mr. Walter up on his offer, it may be that not everyone will be so quick to head downtown.

When asked last Thursday if he would join the group in Riverhead, Mr. Colon said he was staying put — at least for that night. “I’m not moving,” he said.

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