No. 9 Top Story of the Year: Cruise night picks up downtown

JOHN FRIFFIN FILE PHOTO | Steve LoBasso of Eastport's 1956 Ford Sunliner has a tiger in its tank.

A combination of factors led to a nice shot in the arm for downtown Riverhead that came in the form of an impromptu “cruise night” gathering of classic cars every Thursday along the riverfront. Hundreds of car owners and onlookers packed the parking lot each week during the warmer months.

The gathering had been taking place for years in the King Kullen shopping center parking lot in Wading River, but the group was asked to vacate the strip mall there just days after a feature story appeared in the News-Review. Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter then invited the car lovers to downtown Riverhead. They obliged, and the event grew from there. The revelers were even treated one night to a pop standards cover band concert courtesy of the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association.

BID president Ray Pickersgill said the event now draws upward of 300 people on a good night. In contrast, organizers said the event only attracted about 100 people when it was held in Wading River.

What has been good for local car lovers has certainly been great for downtown business. Many of those in attendance said they picked up a slice from Julia’s Pizzeria on East Main Street or planned to visit Digger O’Dell’s after the event.

“It’s people who have disposable money and that’s great,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “Out of all the things we’ve done downtown, cruise night has been one of our most successful.”

The event has been put on hold for the winter.

Town officials and downtown area business owners are hoping Riverhead Cruise Night will return to the riverfront in 2011. Indications are that it will.