Labor Day weekend car show provides boost to downtown businesses

The threat of an uncompleted street project did not seem to worry the 1,000-plus car owners and thousands of visitors who swamped downtown Kenosha Saturday.

The 14th annual Kenosha Classic Cruise-In expanded its area in the central business district to handle the expected crush of additional cars. The event is produced by Kenosha Class Street Machines.

Show coordinator Tony Pontillo wasn’t sure how many cars would ultimately be on display.

“It’s too early,” Pontillo said right before 11a.m. “They’re still coming, but we’re over 1,000.”

Although participants were instructed to enter the show area at 56th Street and Seventh Avenue, not every car owner paid attention to the request.

“Last year we had 1,643 cars on the counter,” said Pontillo. “This year, a lot of people have cheated. They are coming in the back way. There are probably 300 to 400 cars on the grassy area next to Trolley Dogs” at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 55th Street.

Cars could be found from 55th Street to 59th Street and from Seventh Avenue to Fifth Avenue, and even pockets farther south. Much of that area was included in a major street and sidewalk replacement project that kept downtown streets torn up all summer.

Pontillo added: “Downtown businesses tell me it’s the best business day they have all year.”

Cars equal business

While fears of inaccessible streets kept area merchants on edge all summer, the annual car show does mean extra business for some stores.

Mike Bjorn, owner of Mike Bjorn’s Fine Clothing, 5614 Sixth Ave., said the car show is the one large event that brings customers into his store.

“This is the only event on the east side of town where hundreds of people will come into the store,” Bjorn said.

He added that the preponderance of events happening in the city does not ring his cash register. “There is only so much money to be spent,” he said.

“We want to make that happen, and we want those businesses to make money,” said Pontillo. “We want people to go into the (downtown) businesses and spend money.”

Familiar and exotic

The car show offers makes and models for just about every interest, both the everyday and the exotic.

A car model that might have been seen in downtown Kenosha in the 1970s was parked on Sixth Avenue, across from the Orpheum Theater.

Jim Smith and his wife Susan, from Antioch, Ill., sat with their green 1971 AMC Hornet. They purchased the car new in 1972. The car has 43,000 miles on the odometer.

“We go to a lot of car shows,” said Jim Smith. “We’ve been coming to this show for six or seven years.”

Farther north on Sixth Avenue, Ray McBride made the short drive north from Beach Park, Ill., to show his 1989 Chrysler’s TC by Maserati.

McBride said he often has to explain the design and manufacturing agreement between Chrysler and Maserati. The car, upon inspection, carries a Maserati badge on its front grille.

“They only made 7,300 of these between 1989-91,” said McBride. “It’s a convertible, but was shorter than the Chrysler LeBaron. And it has a detachable hard top.”

The car’s dash, door panels, seats, armrest and rear fascia panels are covered in hand-stitched Italian leather. The inside doorjambs are finished with stainless steel.

And just to make sure that the public doesn’t confuse it with its American cousin, McBride placed a sign on the car: “I Am NOT A LeBaron.”

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