On the second Saturday of each month, from 4 to 9 p.m., an event will take place that brings back memories to so many of those who were born and raised in Mount Airy, thanks to Brandon Crouse, owner of Crouse’s Auto Detailing on West Lebanon Street — a cruise-in called Cruisin’ West Lebanon, which was once known as “the strip.”
The West Lebanon Cruise-In will take place at Crouse’s Auto Detailing, with 50/50 drawings, music, and food available for purchase. The next cruise-in will take place on June 14, with a live band and food from Two Brothers Barbeque.
The idea came to fruition when Crouse had a benefit at his shop for Mollie Trent, a local girl who has cancer. “We just had such a good turnout, and so many people were talking about cruising West Lebanon back in the day, when everyone used to cruise up and down the strip and hang out there,” Crouse said. “A lot of old timers were saying it was awesome, and telling me about how they remembered cruising West Lebanon…after people were still going up and down the road after it was over, and still coming in and telling us stories about what they remembered, me and my buddy said ‘why don’t we just have a regular cruise-in’ and the idea was born.”
Crouse quickly made a Facebook page for the event — Cruisin’ West Lebanon — at www.facebook.com/pages/Cruisin-West-Lebanon/680576975334745.
This is not for financial gain, Crouse said, but instead it’s because of his love of Mount Airy and those who own small businesses, like the businesses that surround his shop up and down West Lebanon Street and nearby downtown Mount Airy. “I’m here every day [at Crouse’s Auto Detail] from 7 to 6 and this side of town just dies at night. If this cruise-in could bring more business to this side of town, business that would trickle down to other businesses, that is what I want. The main thing is to try to build this side of town back up. We’d also be happy if that traffic spilled over into downtown.”
Crouse shared that he would love to see people travel to Mount Airy just for the cruise-ins, which would lead to more business at local restaurants, the bowling alley, shops, gas stations, and more. “I’m a local small business owner, and I’d love to see it help small businesses. My goal is to do this for four months and if it does well this year, I will make it even bigger, and run longer, for next year, with sponsors and maybe vendors set up. I’d love to have other business owners get involved. I like keeping this local, keeping my money local.”
The first official cruise-in event took place in May, and Crouse said they had at least 40 cars, which was a good turnout for the first one, he said, especially since it rained.
The family-friendly event could even give young people something to do on a Saturday night, Crouse added. “It’s a good way to have fun. Bring the family out, get the kids involved. We welcome any vehicle you want to show off. I drive an old rat rod, and other people had classic cars there, and bikes. I’m game for anything. If you have a brand new pick-up truck and are happy with it, bring it on down.”
He also said he wanted to make sure he organized the cruise-in on an alternative day from the cruise-ins in downtown Mount Airy, which are on the third Saturday of each month.
A life-long dream
For Brandon Crouse, the love of cars started early. He has owned and operated Crouse’s Auto Detail for almost 10 years, and the business started out at his home. Before he started his business, he worked at 89 Produce, at age 15, and when he would get off work on Saturday, the owners would pay him to wash their cars. Crouse said he had always helped his dad clean up their cars at home, so he had experience, and the word got out that he did a good job.
“People would ask the owners, ‘who did your car,’ and they would say ‘Brandon did it’ and it just kept on like that, and more people wanted me to do their cars. I knew that one day I would own my own business. Mom and Dad always told me if I worked hard I could have whatever I wanted.”
Crouse’s leap of faith happened when he realized he was getting a lot of business at his own home, so he took a chance and opened Crouse’s Auto Detail, which has turned out “really great” with numerous long-time and repeat customers.
Bringing back the memories
Cruising “the strip,” as it was known in the past, was once a big deal for teens, young adults, and even adults from Mount Airy and surrounding areas. “We had guys stopping in the first cruise-in and telling us that it used to take them two and a half to three hours to get from the old KFC to the other end of West Lebanon,” Crouse said.
It was a time when business was booming on West Lebanon, with businesses through the years like Moseley’s Supermarket, Hot Rod Barn, Food Town, Ray’s King Burger, A&P, Steak and Egg, Randleman’s Drug Store with a lunch counter, and the very first KFC on the corner of Highway 52 and West Lebanon, back when it was called Kentucky Fried Chicken.
At one time, there was a drive-in theater on West Lebanon, miniature golf at Veterans Park, and a burger place called Dock’s Drive-In, run by Inaz Hodges and Bob Lovill.
Many of those who enjoyed cruising would ride from Ray’s King Burger on West Lebanon to The Speedy Chef in Bannertown, or perhaps over to Odell’s Sandwich Shop on Highway 89. It would often take up to three hours just to drive down West Lebanon Street.
Debbie Riggs Dobson, who grew up in the Maple Grove Church Road area, said she and her sister Wanda Newman Tucker used to cruise “the strip” all the time, from the very beginning of cruising on West Lebanon. “I met a lot of new friends cruising the strip and circling Odell’s Sandwich Shop…I even met my first real boyfriend. Those were the good ole’ days. No computers and video games to keep you inside. We worked all summer and went to school, and when we would we headed to Mount Airy on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to ride around.”
Dobson now lives in Suffolk, Virginia, but she said she loves to return to visit family in Mount Airy, and would love to return for a West Lebanon Cruise-in one day.
Hundreds of others are sharing their memories of cruising West Lebanon on a Facebook group about Mount Airy, “If you grew up in Mount Airy, NC, then you remember…” at www.facebook.com/groups/229726937070542/.
For more information about Cruisin’ West Lebanon, call Brandon Crouse at Crouse’s Auto Detail, at 336-710-6465 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Johnson may be reached at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryJess.