The first-ever Cruise the Couve took over Vancouver’s Main Street on Saturday, and the new event with a new name had a familiar feel.
Brightly-colored cars, some more than a half-century old, drove back and forth on Main Street, while plenty of others lined the side of the road and nearby parking lots and side streets.
While all seemed as expected on Main Street, the lead-up to the event was hectic for a group of local business owners who found themselves with less than a month to organize an event that brings as many as 20,000 to downtown Vancouver.
Bryan Shull isn’t sure how to describe the past 3 1/2 weeks.
Each time Shull tried to talk about the “tour de force” — his words — that business owners in downtown Vancouver put on, he stumbled.
“It’s been humbling,” Shull, the owner of Trap Door Brewing, said eventually. “We’re a community of businesses. The camaraderie that this built will solidify our relationships. We’ve bonded.”
Cruise the Couve is the replacement for Cruisin’ the Gut, which was started in 2009 by Phil Medina.
In the years since, Cruisin’ the Gut became a fixture in downtown Vancouver. In mid-June, Medina informed the city he wouldn’t organize it this year.
That kicked off a whirlwind three-plus weeks for Shull and other local business owners. They met with city officials to figure out what goes into organizing an event of that scale, set up a nonprofit to run the event and got enough sponsors on board to fund everything.
“This became my second full-time job,” Shull said. “I did not need more work to do, but I couldn’t let this event go away.”
Richard Gallant drew a lot of attention while sitting in his wife’s sunset coral 1957 Chevrolet Suburban, which had previous lives as a hearse, a school bus and an everyday family car. Gallant said his wife, Karla Gallant, got there at 7:30 a.m. to get a prime spot for her car. Richard talked to admirers about the car while Karla cruised up and down Main Street.
Richard has driven that stretch plenty.
“I’ve been cruising this since high school,” the 1978 Evergreen High School graduate said. “It was a place for everybody to meet until the cops kicked us out. Then we’d end up at Frenchman’s Bar. That’s were all the drags used to be.”
He said he thought the new event didn’t have as much energy early as in previous years, adding he didn’t see as many rowdy drivers or people trying to burn their tires.
Randy Larson, owner of Salmon Creek Outfitters, said he noticed the event started a little slow. He wasn’t sure if it was because people thought the event was canceled or for some other reason, but things picked up as the afternoon went on.
By 3 p.m., people lined the sidewalks to watch all sorts of vehicles ride down Main Street. There were vintage military and police vehicles, and the Vancouver Fire Department showed off equipment from 1861. A few lowriders with hydraulics drew cheers from the crowd as they drove stretches of the road on three wheels.
Marlene Smith of Vancouver said she got a lot of positive response for her 2011 Can-Am Spyder, a three-wheeled motorcycle with two wheels in the front and one in the back. She said it was a little funny to cruise the street and get so many thumbs up for her not vintage car.
She said she thought the turnout was similar to previous years at the event.
“People like to come out and walk up and down the street,” she said. “They’ve made it really fun and easy to get around over here.”
That’s a big reason why Shull and the other organizers wanted to step up and organize an event once Medina dropped out.
Both the city and Medina had differing reasons as to why he stepped away after running the Cruisin’ event since its inception. Julie Hannon, the director of Vancouver Parks and Recreation, previously told The Columbian that the city met several times with Medina and offered the same terms involved in last year’s contract, including paying for half of the police costs, which total about $8,000, along with helping him apply for lodging tax funding to offset other costs and subsidizing the price of portable toilets.
Medina didn’t respond to an interview request for this story, but he has been putting out statements on the issue through the Cruisin’ Facebook page. On June 15, he wrote, “The city of Vancouver is requiring the wrong type of liability insurance and therefore the event is not insured properly.” The statement also read that “cost is not the concern, inappropriate coverage is the concern.”
In the same statement, Medina also had issues with covering the cost for police presence. He said the city does not offer to cover their half of the police before the event, which puts him on the hook to pay an undisclosed amount that continues to grow over the years.
He also thought that the city should take on a larger sponsor role in the event, as it is a major beneficiary from it, according to his statement.
Medina later took issue with organizers for promoting their event as a continuation of his. A law firm representing Cruisin’ warned organizers on July 7 to stop associating their new event with the old one through a cease-and-desist letter.
“I sent the cease-and-desist letter not because I do not want them to have an event, but because they have said they are taking over Cruisin’ the Gut, or that it is the same event,” Medina wrote on the Cruisin’ Facebook page. “It is not theirs to take over. Cruise the Couve is in no way related to Cruisin’ the Gut.”
After the letter, Shull and the other organizers went back to erase any literature and promotion that made it seem like their event was a successor or in any way related to Cruisin’ the Gut.
“I respect Phil’s brand,” Shull said. “I just wanted to save this event in some way. We’re trying to build the Vancouver brand.”
Shull also said he was a little confused by Medina’s Facebook post coming after the cease-and-desist letter, because he felt they were contradictory. In Medina’s Facebook post, he wrote that he’s fine with the new organizers’ event continuing.
“I have no ill will towards the businesses in downtown Vancouver,” Medina wrote in the post. “I am humbled and proud that this event has grown to be the largest event in downtown. They had my blessing to take advantage of the people coming on (Saturday), even though my event was canceled, and to create their own event.”
The new organizers started working on the event the day after Medina’s first statement went out. They met with the city to learn about all the different factors in putting on an event of that scale, something Shull said he’s never done. He said that all the organizers jumped in and helped wherever they could.
Zzoom Media helped establish a Facebook presence for the new event, and the organizers applied to the state for a nonprofit business license. They got that while Tip Top Tavern owner Troy Blattner got sponsors on board.
Shull said money for the event came entirely from sponsors, and the organizers opened up sponsorship to anyone interested. He got sponsors who gave as little as $50 to those who gave $5,000. While he wouldn’t say how much money came in from sponsors, he said expects the event to cost somewhere in the range of $15,000 to $20,000 to put on, and he’ll know the final price once he hears how much the police presence cost.
Other help came from Vancouver Brewfest manager Cody Gray, who was hired as event manager for the day, and Larson, who took over merchandising for the event. He said he brought design ideas for a logo and merchandise to the organizers, and they all picked out what they liked. Larson said his company does embroidery and laser work inside its Main Street store, and then uses an off-site warehouse to print everything. The company normally turns around orders in 10 days, so the quick turn-around getting merchandise done for the event wasn’t too difficult.
Larson said the organizers worked well together, which helped them plan the event in a short time because there weren’t any hotheads.
“Nobody was trying to overpower anyone else,” said Cliff McMillen, owner of Vancouver Pizza and another of the event’s organizers. “We were all working to put on an event that is community oriented and wouldn’t be a disorganized mess. We didn’t want it to get a bad reputation for having a down year.”
Boom for businesses?
McMillen said Vancouver Pizza is a little busier during the cruising events than it normally would be, but that’s not really the background focus of what the event is trying to accomplish.
“It’s not about how much the businesses make,” he said. “It’s about community engagement.”
Similarly, Shull said that didn’t factor in his decision to work on creating a new event. He said in the past, the Cruisin’ event was one of the busiest days of the year at Trap Door, if not the busiest day.
“It can be hard money to make,” he said, adding that because it’s so busy, he has to have his full staff come in, as well as pay for fencing so he can create an extra outdoor space for people to watch the cars go by.
One group that was thrilled to see the event continue was Share, which is a beneficiary of the event’s canned food drive. Meaghann Ande, development and volunteer coordinator with the nonprofit homeless service provider, said it’s fun to watch the classic cars driving down the street stop in front of Share’s booth to hand them bags of food.
The food collected and all donations that come in at the event go to Share’s backpack program for kids. Last year, the nonprofit gave out 59,000 bags of food through the program.
“Events like these are crucial,” Ande said. “Everything we collect today is going to kids in the community. It’s a way for us to come out and talk to the community, to let them know what we do.”
Future of the events
In a Facebook post, Medina said he plans on running the Cruisin’ event in a nearby location next year.
The Cruise the Couve organizers also are looking ahead to next year. Shull said the organizers will meet with city officials in the coming weeks to go over what did and didn’t work about the event. They’ll also set up an official board for the nonprofit organization and start working on planning the event a bit earlier next year. Even if they make some changes, he expects the sentiment of the Cruise the Couve to remain.
“I love my neighbors,” he said. “I give as much of my business to them as possible. I try to share it around with everyone. That’s where my heart is at. I want people to experience that and foster that in the community.”