With fall well underway, with festivals and fairs popping up seemingly everywhere, downtown Pilot Mountain bid a festive farewell to summer on Saturday with its last Hot Nights and Hot Cars cruise-in of the year.
An abundance of classic cars and spectators came out early to enjoy the day, with the streets filling by mid-morning. What started out to be a large final day was tempered, however, by the afternoon onset of rain which lasted throughout the day.
Many of those who had come out to enjoy this last opportunity of the summer lingered in the rain. Crowds gathered under awnings to talk and watch the sporadic classic vehicle make its way down the street while others, donning umbrellas and plastic hoodies, continued to stroll the sidewalks to look at the remaining parked cars.
The Carolina Breakers took the stage as the rain continued and played a shortened set, ending at about 7:30. A contingent of determined beach music fans gathered under umbrellas and nearby trees to listen to the assortment of classics. Not to be deterred, some even took their umbrellas to the dance floor.
“We can’t be disappointed,” Jerry Venable of the sponsoring Mount Pilot Now group said. “We continued to see new people who had heard about us and wanted to check it out. I met a couple from Tarboro who were here for the first time and really enjoyed themselves. And we had some people from up around the Virginia-Maryland line who were visiting for the first time. With the weather, all in all, it was a good day. We had a lot of people come out before the rain.”
With the end of the cruise-in season, downtown businesses will have to wait until next year for the once-a-month influx of newcomers to the town.
“We really appreciate the cruise-in and what it brings here,” noted Donna Chilton, owner of Mount Pilot Country Store. “There’s no doubt it brings in people and business. With the rain and some cooler temperatures, this hasn’t been a great year for the cruise-ins but it has still meant a lot to us.”
“Overall this has been a tough year for downtown and that goes beyond the cruise-ins,” Chilton said. “We’re a small town and we really need for people to come out and support downtown businesses. If not, they won’t be downtown and we’d lose all those items and services that can only be found here. We need people and we need to have more things to bring people downtown.”
Cook’e Jessup of Mount Pilot Antiques was quick to note the importance of the cruise-in season to her business.
“For six months each year cruise-in Saturday is the best day of the month. That’s valuable exposure. A lot of people come back during the week when they can take their time and look around,” she said.
Jessup added that while occasional showers may dampen the cruise-in festivities for some, it has often proven to be a positive for her business.
“People who are on the street come in from the rain and look around,” she explained, “and that’s a good thing.”
“The cruise-ins are really important. They help us survive for those tougher winter months. And we’ve met a lot of new friends, both from here and from out of town,” she said.
While the cruise-in series takes its annual winter hiatus, all those who look forward to it for whatever reasons can take comfort in the fact that plans are already being made for next year.
“We’re already booking bands for next year,” Venable said. “Unless something changes, we’re looking to be on the street next May.”