Some downtown Elizabethton businesses call for change to car club’s weekly cruise-ins

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ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — Each Saturday from April to October, hundreds of cars line Elk Avenue in downtown Elizabethton for the Carter County Car Club’s Cruise-ins.

Some businesses are asking for a change to the 18-year-old event, due to parking issues.

“Parking is an issue here in town. We only have so many spaces for each store and if they’re taken up by folks that aren’t shopping, it just causes problems,” said Brad Grindstaff, a vendor at the Eagle Center Co-Op. “It doesn’t so much for us because we get customers from the car club but other businesses don’t.”

The issue was brought to light during public comment at the City Council meeting in May.

While the two business owners who spoke at the meeting declined to speak with us on camera, the owner of Fletcher’s Homemade, a sewing and quilting shop, said in a Facebook post that she had been targeted on social media afterward.

Other businesses have experienced the same problem.

“They have rules to come at 5 o’clock and park and enjoy the show but a lot of businesses are open until 5,” said Grindstaff. “They come at 3 o’clock and park too early so it takes their regular customers’ parking spaces.”

The president of the car club says its members do not come early but those traveling in from out of town might.

“They are just people visiting with their old cars. Some are from out of state, some are locals but no one that’s a member of the car club comes and parks early,” Eddie Brumitt said. “There are ample parking lots in this city which were brought to my attention by the Main Street [Elizabethton] director, so, I don’t know what the issue is about early parking. And even the ones that are upset about that, most of them close when the cruise-in starts.”

News Channel 11 also asked Brummit about the threats mentioned in the Facebook post.

“I don’t agree with that. That’s not what we do,” he said. “No member I know has done that. I cannot control what the public does.”

For some, the cruise-ins bring more customers.

“From April to October, I bring in an extra employee at 2 o’clock for downstairs and two extra employees in the kitchen,” said John Malone, the owner of Jiggy Ray’s Pizzeria. “So, that’s three hours before the car show starts but my business does increase that much from [2 to 5 p.m.] because people are coming down and getting ready for the show or getting ready for music in the park.”

However, Malone sees where he is at advantage compared to others.

“We benefit greatly from the car show. From start to finish, whether it’s early or late. Being a restaurant, it’s kind of a unique situation. As long, as there are people, people are going to be hungry. So, from a restaurant standpoint, the car show is absolutely 100% beneficial for us,” Malone said. “Isn’t that the goal of a business district to attract people to come in to…do foot traffic and to have potential customers? I have some people show up early but for me, it’s a benefit.”

The city manager says the cruise-ins are put on the agenda in March for approval.

“It typically comes on the agenda late winter, early spring for the approval of their upcoming season. As far as I can see it, it’s approved through October and that gets them through the season this year,” said Daniel Estes. “As the year progresses we hope there’s an opportunity there for dialogue and compromise that accommodates everybody downtown.”

Brummitt isn’t sure how a compromise can be made but hopes the cruise-ins continue because he says they support between $20,000-30,000 in donations to children’s charities in Carter County each year.

“I don’t know what the compromise is. There’s no other place in town that will accommodate it…there’s no place to put that on another street,” he said. “I really hope that we can work this out because the only ones who will suffer if this is stopped are the children.”

News Channel 11 reached out to Main Street Elizabethton as well as the Chamber of Commerce, but both declined to comment on the cruise-ins.

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