Cruisin'

Street rods and antique cars take over the historic downtown Canal Street in New Smyrna Beach every second Saturday for the monthly East Coast Cruiser Night.

Cruise night on Canal Street is still on.

But it didn’t look good a few days ago when the car show organizer, East Coast Cruisers, learned the City of New Smyrna Beach would begin requiring a payment of about $800 per event to provide police and fire safety.

After staging the free-admission show on Canal Street for 23 years, with minimal income and no financial sponsors, the nonprofit organization’s founder, Pat Teehan, suddenly was faced with the possibility the show might not go on.

“We couldn’t afford those fees,” Mr. Teehan said. “We would have had to cancel it or go to a major sponsor; it would have been tough to keep going.”

For decades, the event has been a staple on Canal Street through good and hard times, even when a large number of the stores were vacant and parking lots were mostly empty.

Over the years, when the street was closed on the second Saturday of each month for the show, club members set up the event and provided their own safety barriers.

Skip Barnes, a Friends of Canal Street board member who served as general manager of the Little Drug Co. for 28 years, said the East Coast Cruiser car show has been “a real boom” for businesses in the area and losing it would be a big loss for merchants and the community.

“These guys all these years have been policing the event themselves and doing everything needed for the show,” Mr. Barnes said, “and it has worked out just fine.”

And the city apparently agrees.

The police and fire safety fees were waived after Mr. Teehan met with Commissioner Jason McGuirk, Commissioner Jake Sachs and Fire Chief Shawn VanDemark and reached an agreement that fulfilled the safety requirements that had made the fees necessary.

If assessed, the fees would have paid for an off-duty police officer and a firefighter/paramedic to be onsite at each car show.

“It’s really important to provide first responders quick access at large-scale events,” explained Commissioner Sachs, “but, in the case of the car show, Canal Street has a lot of side streets that would allow fire trucks and police cars to reach the street in emergency situations.”

The Zone 2 commissioner said it would be “catastrophic” for both Canal merchants and the city if the popular event was forced to close. 

“When I first heard the news that the organization was struggling with the fees, and how it would really hurt them to come up with that money, the first thing I thought was what a great loss it would be to the city if that event was canceled,” Commissioner Sachs recalled.

He praised the East Coast Cruisers for “bending over backward” to keep the event on Canal Street and in New Smyrna Beach.

Mr. Teehan, Cruisers present, said there was never any animosity toward the city.

“The city has been very good to us,” he said, “We did have a problem with that amount of money, but the agreement we reached was fair and we had no problem; we fulfilled the safety requirements of the fire responders, so the fees have been waived.”

Until the possibility of having to shut down the event surfaced on Facebook and social media last week, Mr. Teehan said he was not fully aware of the popularity and impact pf the car show.

“The support we have received after the word got out has been extraordinary,” he said. “Thank you to everybody who supported us and sent an email and made phone calls to the appropriate people. Your support means more to us than you will ever know.”

Over the years, the East Coast Cruiser event, the largest once a month show in the Southeast, had grown to where it attracted an average of about 600 cars in the winter months and about 400 in the summer.

Mr.Teehan had one final comment, “Spread the word, cruise night is still on.”

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