Downtown Business Association President Phil Marsh is shown at work during a Mayberry Cool Cars and Rods Cruise-In in Mount Airy’s CBD.

Another cruise season has kicked off in Mount Airy, but not all are cranked up about their first installment last weekend – which resulted in a poll being launched to see what downtown business owners thought of the event.

Recent double exhaust emissions had barely cleared the air when the Mayberry Cool Cars and Rods cruise-in ended on June 19, limiting a 20-month delay due to COVID-19 before complaints surfaced from an affected individual about the operation.

Sherry Kearns of Mount Airy, connected to the Grand Pup Resort Hotel and Spa in the heart of the CBD, shared their views in a letter to the editor published last Sunday (“Readers Concerned About Events in Downtown,” Mount Airy News, June 20).

These included allegations against the chief organizer of the monthly cruise series, Phil Marsh, president of the Downtown Business Association, which Marsh said are unfounded.

Kearns pointed out that downtown traffic has been reduced to a lane to accommodate muscle and classic car parking along North Main Street and others to drive around the area. This requires the use of the parking spaces in front of the shops.

“The event doesn’t start before 4pm, but they block parking at 6am,” Kearns wrote in part. “Event runner Phil Marsh encouraged people to exercise and kept seats ready for his friends in their cars.”

Marsh competed that Thursday afternoon.

“Nobody has reserved spaces,” he said of the claim that parking is preferred for vehicles participating in the cruise events in the warmer months.

“None of those cones we have on the sidewalk have anyone’s name,” added Marsh Base.

He admits that the cruise-ins don’t officially start until 4 p.m., but then the music from a DJ starts in the city center and the participants sign up for the auto show jury. “That doesn’t mean we have to start parking at four,” Marsh said.

“We have to start parking early – if not, we can’t bring everyone in,” said the President of the Downtown Business Association, pointing out that this is covered by the official regulations for the cruises coordinated by this group. “My parking card allows me to park earlier.”

The sheer volume of vehicles makes this mandatory from Marsh’s point of view, which not only requires the use of spaces along North Main Street, but also side streets and the Mount Airy Post Office parking lot, which was filled during the occasion.

“I would say it has to be 400 or 500,” he estimated. “They were everywhere.”

When asked to summarize his overall response to Kearns’ complaints, Marsh replied curtly: “That was totally inappropriate.”

Kearns on Friday outlined the issues she raised in the letter, including expressing her dissatisfaction with situations such as people unable to park on the street early in the morning and the operation of cruise lines in general.

“My concern is that the person who runs it is allowed to do what they want,” she said of the preparation of the events. “I just think it has to be done a little differently.”

Kearns also said trash is being left in the DJ station, a pavilion on the corner of North Main and West Oak Streets near the Grand Pup Resort Hotel and Spa.

It is believed that Kearns’ complaint was the first to be made so publicly about the cruises.

Poll started

Last Tuesday, the short online cruise ship survey, aimed at businesses in the city center, was announced.

“That was caused by this letter, which was really inappropriate,” Marsh said of the poll.

Mount Airy Downtown Inc. has teamed up with the Downtown Business Association to create it to enable those affected to make contributions to improving events.

“So far we have received 42 responses from downtown companies,” said Main Street coordinator Lizzie Morrison of Mount Airy Downtown on Friday.

“Our downtown business owners are creative people who shared great ideas on how the event could be improved,” said Morrison. “For example, one company suggested setting up tents on the street to give people shade from the sun.”

Other ideas include parading vehicles from Veterans Memorial Park downtown, which occurs during busy Christmas parades, and helping control traffic at intersections to reduce traffic jams and provide safer access.

The first survey results seem to suggest fundamental support for the cruise-in series.

Of the 42 respondents who have responded so far, 87% think the events should be on North Main Street, according to Morrison.

Some business owners responded that the cruises had no impact on their sales or might reduce their sales slightly, but were still open to hosting the events downtown.

“There are also companies that have reported that the cruise-in events are increasing sales,” said the Main Street coordinator.

Yvette Allen of Talley’s Custom Frame and Gallery in downtown seems to fit in with that middle ground of cruise-in effects on customer traffic.

“I think they are doing a good job,” Allen said on Friday about the organizers.

“We had a lot of traffic in the shop,” she continued. “It brought a lot of people downtown.”

On the flip side, the June 19 cruise was a bit detrimental to business, Allen said.

“We had a lot of people calling to come in here, but there was no parking on the street.”

Everyone agrees that downtown businesses should be more educated about cruises so operators know what to expect in terms of traffic.

A good “problem”

“The cruise-in events have grown very large and that is testament to the hard work of Phil Marsh and others,” said Morrison, the Main Street coordinator.

“I’m grateful to have ‘problems’ like this, and I think it’s always a good idea to judge how to handle growth like we saw at the cruise-in events.”

Morrison said the plan is to put the survey on hold for a few more weeks to allow all downtown businesses to respond.

“We tried to give companies the opportunity to provide constructive feedback that will help understand the economic impact of the event,” she said. “Hopefully there are some solutions that will make things easier and more beneficial for everyone involved.”

For his part, Marsh, the president of the Downtown Business Association, urges everyone to look long-term at cruises and other activities that could cause parking and traffic problems but are generally beneficial.

“People need to realize that these events that we have downtown are what keep Mount Airy alive,” he said, pointing out that cruises in particular draw people from a variety of states, including New York.

“We had people from all over the world.”

Tom Joyce can be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.