September 2011 – The final Encinitas Classic Car Cruise Nights signals the end of summer for many locals. The season’s last event, held on September 15, served as a reminder of the tremendous effort that DEMA and its volunteers put into organizing the crowd pleasing nights.

Doug, left & Mike Castellucci of KUSI broadcasting from Encinitas on the Morning Show June 16, 2011

DEMA volunteer and event coordinator Doug Jones serves as the “face” of the series. His humility is commendable as he is hesitant to take the credit for the event’s growing success. “All of the work that the staff at DEMA does makes downtown thrives,” he said.

“I’m the one who gets the cars and the clubs and the characters for the specific locations,” he said.

“Four years ago, when I got involved the challenge was to connect the visitors with the merchants during classic car events,” he said. As Jones sees it, “your job as a merchant is to reach out and show them what ya got.” Jones said he worked with restaurants and other businesses to ensure that a connection was made with the potential for new customers during the classic car cruise nights.

“These things evolve,” Jones said. “As one aspect improved, it just got better and better. Consequently, your visitors feel more welcome and the merchants feel like they are gaining new opportunities for business.” Jones said the car clubs started to spread the good word about Encinitas amongst one another and made the event a more sought after destination.

Apparently, Jones’ efforts are paying off. The 2010 series saw a doubling of visitors. 2011 attendance grew by four times that of the previous year. “It also grew in merchants all the way to the south end of town. Now suddenly, more parking spaces opened up and merchants are feeling a positive impact,” Jones said.

According to a survey conducted by DEMA, over 70-percent of the people attending cruise night had already attended one downtown event and were planning to attend another in the near future. “I hear about it, I get the emails from the car club presidents, the car culture people and visitors saying they wanted to come back,” Jones said.

In fact, Jones confirmed that the event has expanded to benefit merchants in a wider area along Coast Highway 101. “Visitors are now discovering the north and south end of town rather than clustering around the center of the venue at the Encinitas Smog Station,” he said.

Jones said the formula for success is clear. “The key to this from day one is to keep it simple, fun and friendly. There’s not a big emphasis on who’s going to get a trophy.  And it’s working,” he said.

There was no shortage of humor in the categories of awards given to individual car owners. They ranged from “I’ll rescue you honey, the fireman’s choice award” to the “car that’s not likely to make it home tonight.” “It’s always fun, that’s the whole objective,” Jones said. “We try to keep the spirit light and it’s working,”  he said. “You get the funniest comments from people about these awards.”

The family-friendly atmosphere is evident, as multiple generations of family members attend the event together. “My favorite award is ‘Gidget’s favorite ride to the beach’ because it reminds me of the early surf days when just a handful of us girls were riding boards instead of sitting on the beach watching our boyfriends,” said Janet Swanson, a visitor from Laguna Beach who brought her grand-daughter along. “I’ve always loved coming to Encinitas and this gives me a good excuse to make it a day.”

With live music at two venues and a special viewing of the newly redesigned 2012 Beetle, visitors got an overload of sensory information. “There is so much to see and do and hear down here,” said Parish Manusch, a visitor from Poway. “This is more than just a car show, it’s a whole gathering of people who seem to be having a good time.”

“This event just really represents the fun and spirit of downtown of Encinitas,” Jones agreed.