Let’s keep take advantage of touring car enthusiasts

Published 11:17 pm Saturday, April 28, 2018

Last week was a blast of the past all over the highways, byways and roadways of Natchez — and left me with a hope we can do it again real soon.

As a long-time automobile lover, seeing antique Chevrolets running up and down the Natchez streets was a treat.

The event was the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America’s 2018 Southern Spring Tour. The group brought dozens of vintage cars to the area last week. Most packed up and left Saturday after a week in and around Natchez.

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At times Natchez felt a little like Havana, the capital of Cuba, where a long-time blockade of American car imports caused Cuban car owners to treasure and protect the cars imported before the blockade making 1950s cars commonplace.

In America, however, seeing an occasional vintage car is a special surprise. To see a string of them following one another or to see several in a quick drive around town is very rare.

But all over Natchez the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s paraded all over Natchez. The visitors — many of whom said they had never visited Natchez — came from more than a dozen states. Hopefully, they will go back to their homes and tell others about the fun they had in Natchez.

Historic Natchez makes a perfect backdrop for such an event. Beautiful scenery simply complements the rolling pieces of Americana.

Two things stand out after a week of having a group of car enthusiasts in town.

First, Natchez could quickly pull together a smaller, regional car show to begin establishing our area as a car town.

Perhaps this is something downtown businesses or the City of Natchez could help organize. A Friday night or Saturday night Natchez Cruise-in would be good for downtown.

A few select downtown streets could be blocked off so visitors would walk into the heart of downtown.

Or the whole thing could be held on the bluff.

Either way, it seems a low-cost way to attract lots of folks to Natchez and their cars would attract other car enthusiasts who simply want to come see their work.

Second idea, with a little broader scope could have an even large impact on the city.

From a tourism marketing perspective, Natchez has a great opportunity here, either alone or in partnership with other nearby areas such as St. Francisville, Louisiana, which hosted last week’s Chevy club for a day of their trip.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast has developed an enormously popular car event called Cruisin‘ The Coast. They dub the event as “America’s Largest Block Party.”

In the more than 20 years the Gulf Coast event has been held, it’s grown from a few hundred cars to last year’s more than 8,000 participants.

The Gulf Coast figured out something important — from a tourist perspective, car enthusiasts are good tourists. Antique cars cost money, meaning the people that own them typically have at least some disposable income. That’s income that can be spent during such an out-of-town car event.

Many of the vintage Chevy owners in Natchez last week were retirees, who not only came to Natchez for the event, but who also bought things for their grandchildren in local stores and they ate out in local restaurants as well. Even for a relative small group of tourists, they clearly had a big impact on Natchez.

Natchez could very much make a good event by organizing now to promote and host a vintage car event next year, perhaps making a great event for next April or May. Call it Cruisin‘ the River, if you will.

As we’ve seen last year with the Downtown Farmers Market, if you give people a reason to come to downtown Natchez, they will.

Natchez is blessed with great country roads, a beautiful downtown and amazing scenery. It’s the perfect combination to host a vintage car event. All we have to do is organize it and invite people to join in the fun.

Let’s crank up the engine of opportunity ahead.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.