BirminghamAugust 19, 2013
‘The best cruise ever’
By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer
BIRMINGHAM — On the Sunday following the Woodward Dream Cruise, Susan Cobb, owner of Hunter House Hamburgers, could barely make a sound. Her voice was shot from a week’s worth of classic car revelry.
“The whole week was just absolutely fabulous. I honestly think it was the best cruise ever,” said Cobb, as she cleaned up the restaurant. “We just had a great time. We were singing and dancing. Even the kids who work for me were singing really loudly. Even when I had no voice, I was laughing.”
Residents and local business owners alike are still reeling after what was arguably the most successful Woodward Dream Cruise in recent memory. Hunter House has been a cruise hotspot for years. The historic restaurant, which celebrates its 61st anniversary this year, seems to fit the vintage motif of the day. And Cobb said she couldn’t be happier to take part in the festivities.
“We get a Beatles cover band, and an Elvis. He never goes out of character,” she said. “We’re all outside under this big tent, and everyone is here with a big smile, ready to party.”
Cobb wasn’t the only one to say this year’s cruise was a hit. John Heiney, executive director of the Birmingham Principal Shopping District, spent all day at the annual Birmingham Cruise Event, held downtown along South Old Woodward. He said he thinks it was the most attended cruise the city’s seen in some time.
“It was outstanding. The crowd was, honestly, the biggest crowd I’ve seen in the last five years,” he said.
He and Cobb both attributed the increased traffic to the picture-perfect weather. Cruisers enjoyed a sunny day, and temperatures at a comfortable 81 degrees, according to weather.com. The bright and warm — but not too warm — climate encouraged drivers and spectators alike to head out to Birmingham and check out the more than 250 classic cars parked downtown for the city’s cruise event, as well as the many more that drove by on Woodward’s main drag.
“It had to be the beautiful weather. The classics could drive without fear of overheating,” said Cobb. “And there was lots of foot traffic, all the way down Woodward. Kids, pets — everything.”
Cmdr. Terry Kiernan of Birmingham Police also noticed larger-than-normal crowds this year. He said he noticed more cars on Woodward than he can remember in some time; and the pedestrian traffic downtown, especially near S. Old Woodward and Haynes Street where the Chevrolet display was located, was busy but manageable all day.
“I think the crowds have kind of plateaued. When this first started, people would be 2-4 people deep on the curb. Not anymore. But in the Chevy area, that was packed probably 80 percent of the day. Which is good, that there was also a high turnout there,” he said.
Also in that area this year was the live Woodward Dream Cruise broadcast by WXYZ Channel 7. Heiney said the news station moving their coverage headquarters to Birmingham was a big draw to visitors, and also likely contributed to the influx of traffic in the city.
But even with all the extra bodies and motors tucked along Birmingham’s stretch of Woodward, the day was relatively calm, Kiernan said.
“There were really no problems to speak of. We had eight traffic tickets and one for disorderly,” he said. “Three of them were for squealing tires, one was for speeding, one was for improper use of a horn. There was a violation of seatbelt and one for careless driving. That’s really minimal for us.”
Parking tickets were also relatively low, Kiernan said, with just a handful of citations issued. After 19 years of cruising, he said officers and visitors just know the ins and outs of dream cruise decorum.
“Even at the end of the day, when you think the beer will kick in, we didn’t have any problems. And we haven’t had any problems for the last couple of years,” he said. “The people who come out here have been out here before for the most part. They know the expectations, and you get compliance. It seems to be that everyone’s got the idea now of how this thing works.”
Of course, not everyone can claim a banner day on dream cruise Saturday. Heiney admits that many businesses in the downtown area closed their doors for the day because they’re located in a spot that’s just too difficult to access amidst the throngs of cars and people. But even in those instances, he said, the event should be considered a long-term success.
“About half of the businesses stay open. Rachel at ArtLoft stays open, and Holly at the Italian Dish. It’s an average or above-average Saturday for them,” he said. “But it brings a lot of people to town who might not have been here before. Even if they don’t go in and shop that day, it’s great exposure for the city and it certainly brings repeat business.”