The Shorewood Kiwanis Harper Charity Cruise brings car lovers from near and far who line the avenue to take in the sights and enjoy each other’s company.

The Shorewood Kiwanis Harper Charity Cruise brings car lovers from near and far who line the avenue to take in the sights and enjoy each other’s company.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

It’s always a party on Harper Avenue during the cruise

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published August 9, 2021


ST. CLAIR SHORES — The classic cars aren’t the only thing attracting visitors to Harper Avenue the last Wednesday in August — the parties thrown by local businesses bring visitors from near and far to eat, drink and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Shorewood Kiwanis Harper Charity Cruise.

For the past quarter century, Rico’s Auto Specialty Shop, 23515 Little Mack Ave., and Van’s Used Cars, 23509 Little Mack Ave., have hosted a party for the Shorewood Kiwanis Harper Charity Cruise.

“The first one we did was when Sam Cipriano and Bill Callahan, he was a councilman, came up with the idea of coming up with a Harper Cruise. They knew I handled a lot of high-performance cars and Rico worked on them. We’ve been doing it ever since,” said Maurice VanCoillie of Van’s Used Cars.

The neighboring businesses, on Little Mack Avenue where it intersects with Harper Avenue just north of Nine Mile Road, always offer sweet corn and hot dogs in exchange for donations, he said. The past few years, the shindig has also included country line dancers and a DJ, and VanCoillie said they plan to do so again this year.

“The DJ plays after that, and a lot of the young people, from 10 years old to early teens, they’re out there stomping away, having a good time,” he said. “People look forward to seeing us every year.”

Mario Como with Real Living Kee Realty has been hosting a party at 24938 Harper Ave. since 2006. It was when his real estate team moved to Harper Avenue that he talked with his friends in the band, The Orbitsuns, and decided to set up a stage for a party.

“It truly just blossomed, or mushroomed, from there, from thinking it’d be a nice get together for a few friends, to The Orbitsuns,” he said. While he started off renting a stage each year, he has been able to rent the city’s Showmobile the past five years.

“The city’s been very appreciative and supports what we’re doing, and so does Kiwanis,” Como said.

The company offers food and beverages in a large tent in their parking lot, and raised nearly $2,000 for the charity cruise in 2019 from donations.

“We’ve had a good run,” Como said. “We usually will have some other local musician play for an hour or so in the early part of the evening ... then The Orbitsuns. It’s always family friendly, a lot of kids dancing and having a good time.

“There’s always going to be a good crowd that will buy T-shirts.”

Realtors and employees from other offices come join the party, as well, he said, which is so important to the realtor that, although the office moved to 10 Mile Road this year, the party will still go on in the old parking lot.

“The cruise was so important to us, I actually wrote it into the lease with the new tenant,” he said. “We have relocated, but we have negotiated with the current tenant that we have control of the property for that day.”

This year, there will be a food truck and free beverages at the Real Living Kee Realty party, along with “music and good cheer.”

“The thing I love about Kiwanis is, they’re a true nonprofit,” he said. “Every dollar that’s raised goes directly back into the community. Everything you do is going to help somebody in the local community.”

The community atmosphere is what draws the crowd to the cruise, VanCoillie said.

“Up and down Harper, they have their own groups, and it’s more like a family affair. It’s not a commercialized thing like some of those other cruises,” he said.

He still remembers when the cruise only ran from 8 1/2 Mile to 10 1/2 Mile roads.

“A lot of these people, they see each other once a year at the cruise,” he said. “Friends they normally wouldn’t see, and they bring their hot rod or whatever. A lot of those people are generous in terms of donating to our cause.”

Como agreed that the smaller size of the cruise is a big draw.

“It’s a cruise everyone can enjoy,” Como said. “It’s short and sweet, and you can see everything. There’s not a bad seat in the house.”