Whether you’re a car collector with a thing for Mustangs, Corvettes or vintage cars, or just a habitué of the hamlet of Oyster Bay looking for a street party downtown, the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Chamber of Commerce has just the thing for you this summer.
Every Tuesday night from 5:45 to dark, from now to Sept. 7, the downtown area will be home to a family-friendly car collectors’ display featuring antique and vintage cars, muscle cars, motorcycles, souped-up cars and even a brightly painted VW Bug or two.
Long Island’s love affair with the automobile continues. And it’s a love that is historic, deep and wide-ranging, dating back to the early 1900s, when Centerport’s William K. Vanderbilt Jr., heir to a railroad fortune and a pioneer race car driver, built a private motorway across the Island and sponsored America’s first international road race.
Many of Vanderbilt’s contemporaries were no less enamored of motorcars, it seems. Rosalie Jones, a Long Island suffragette, was an ace car mechanic and led suffragist parades from Cold Spring Harbor to Washington, D.C., in a 1913 Ford Model T. On Lloyd Neck, Marshall Field built his own road system at what is now Caumsett State Park.
Northport’s “Sis” Olmsted teamed up with the Roosevelt clan’s Leila Roosevelt in 1934 and drove around the world, including a 10,000-mile stretch from Antwerp to Singapore.
And Oyster Bay’s own President Theodore Roosevelt was in the mix, too. He was, after all, the first president to ride in a motorcade. And while he said that the early cars needed to have the “objectionable features” regulated out of them, Teddy delighted in driving through Hartford, Conn., in an electric automobile in 1902, and said that cars were a great way to shake a lot of hands in a short period of time.
Flash-forward to 21st century downtown Oyster Bay, recently home to the likes of a Collector Cars Showcase and Billy Joel’s motorcycle collection, and it’s easy to see why a Main Street Cruise Night for car enthusiasts has found a friendly home.
After a year’s hiatus due to Covid-19, Cruise Night has returned, thanks to the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Chamber of Commerce.
To be sure, there are numerous locations around Long Island for displays of vintage and collector’s cars, from Planting Fields and the Vanderbilt Museum to Bald Hill and Tobay Beach. But a main street location transforms the event into a community affair, allowing residents to mingle with car enthusiasts. Oyster Bay’s Cruise Night typically draws children who spontaneously dance in the street to the live music. Mothers and fathers push strollers, while pet owners walk their dogs and greet friends and neighbors as they go.
“The chamber is all about making this an event that’s fun for kids,” Ravin Chetram, the organization’s vice president, said. “Based on people’s requests, this year we’re organizing Cruise Night so there’s one side — from the gazebo toward the train station — that’s a kind of family side. That’s where we’ll concentrate the family booths, and do things like give out pinwheels, beads and things.”
And there are commercial benefits to having an evening car display with a live band in the middle of blocked-off Audrey Avenue and a few chamber-provided refreshments. It means that, from restaurants and ice cream vendors to the Oyster Bay Brewery, with its stool-and-barrel sidewalk seating, downtown retailers are front and center in the street-fair experience.
“We have a pretzel guy, but won’t be selling hamburgers to the public,” Chetram said. “This is the chamber. We’re not going to put things out to compete with the businesses.”
On July 13, first-time car displayers and regulars, who came from all over Nassau County to take part, expressed their enthusiasm for Cruise Night. The mother of a 20-year-old from Port Washington who was showing his Corvette for the first time said she enjoyed the small-town feel of the hamlet as well as the music.
And George Hanley, of Levittown, who is known for his 1970 Mustang with a racing stripe down the middle, said he was happy the event was up and running again. “I’ve been bringing it to Cruise Night in Oyster Bay for five or six years,” Hanley said. “I like going there — it’s a nice show. Not as crowded as, for example, the Wantagh train station.”
Hanley added that his preferred spot to park his Mustang is by the bandstand. “I like how accommodating the village is,” he said. “If the number of cars gets higher, they can open up side streets to display.”
He predicted that the event was on its way back. “It wasn’t the best of weather this week, but it was promising,” Hanley said. “If it comes back to pre-Covid numbers, it’s going to be a real nice show.”
Chetram agreed. “Pre-Covid, we had anywhere between 150 and 200 cars when the weather was good,” he said. “This week we had 70 to 80, so we’re not there yet. But the weather has been bad so far this summer, so we predict as the summer goes on and the weather improves, the numbers will build back up to that level again.”