‘Not all crowds are great crowds’ Cruise-in events cause concern for downtown businesses

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, February 17, 2022

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A “pretty significant” number of downtown business owners don’t want the weekly Carter County Car Club cruise-ins to continue weekly in Downtown Elizabethton.
“I was on the Downtown Business Association when the car club original approached us to have the car show several years ago,” said Joe Alexander, who owns Alexander Insurance Agency. “The main problem seems to be the same since the car shows started and that is car owners bringing their cars before the start time of the car show and taking up parking spaces in front of the businesses maybe even four hours before the show is scheduled to start.
“I am not open on Saturdays and this doesn’t really affect me, but according to the third-party survey conducted by ETSU … 71 % of the business owners want a change and that’s pretty significant.”
The Elizabethton City Council earlier this month gave approval for the car club to continue to the controversial Saturday night cruise-in events, with considerations for other downtown events.
But Alexander and other downtown business owners say car owners arriving early and occupying parking spaces in front of storefronts curtails their ability to do business.
In November and December 2021, East Tennessee State University conducted a nine-question survey about the issue. Those surveys were sent to 148 businesses with 48 responding.
Joy McCray, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said the cruise-ins are not necessarily a positive event for small or local businesses.
“With retail and any shopping, everybody has their own demographic,” said McCray. “Not everybody is out to buy the same thing and not everyone is out to shop at the same store. You have the different clientele for different stores and that’s great because that is what makes them all unique and very unique to our community and what drives people to drive to our community and return because there are unique things that you can only find here in downtown Elizabethton.
“Not all crowds are great crowds. Just because you have a crowd doesn’t necessarily mean that they are shopping and that they are always shopping at your store. And that is not limited to retail.”
McCray said she has watched businesses that do not ordinarily gain revenue from the car cruise-in try to attract cruise-in participants,  just as they have for events like Christmas in July and the Fourth of July Celebration at the Covered Bridge.
“It is not a lack of our businesses not trying to attract any and all customers,” McCray said. “I think that they have done everything that they can do to compromise. I think that they have bent over backward to try to find compromise and resolve and they were met with none.”
McCray said since the cruise-ins were approved again this year, the chamber has decided to cancel its popular Derby on the Doe event and is considering relocating other events.
While the city council has said accommodations would be made to other groups seeking to host events downtown at the same time, McCray said the chamber would prefer to move chamber events to another area of the county rather than be book-ended by the events on Elk Avenue.
“We have seen small businesses in our community nearly lose everything and pull it back together and still hang on and still be an integral part of our community. They are the reason that this downtown even exists. They are the reason that these buildings on Elk Avenue are here and we will support them through all of their needs,” McCray said.

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