Orange cones were about the only thing out of place Monday morning following eight days of Cruisin’ The Coast across South Mississippi.
Before the classic cars and RVs pulled away Saturday and Sunday, those in town for the car show “Cleaned up the Coast, as they normally do after this event,” said Woody Bailey, executive director of Cruisin’. There are a few more tire marks that usual on U.S. 90, he said.
This was the 22nd year for the event that began as a way for extending the tourism season.
“22 was a very good year,” said Bailey, and it was another record-breaking year. There were 8,444 cars registered, an increase of 136 over last year.
“People come here and have a great time and go back and tell their friends,” he said.
Winners all around
The weather for the week was good, if warmer than usual, Bailey said. That was welcome after last year’s early end when Hurricane Nate crashed the party and cleared the beach of cars and campers a day or two early.
Thomas Genin said 2017’s shortened event definitely impacted business at The Blind Tiger restaurant in Bay St. Louis. Because of the lost day or two, his business for the Cruisin’ week was down $50,000 compared to 2016, he said. His location on the beach in Biloxi was open for its first Cruisin’ last year and was hit with $30,000 in damage from the storm.
This year, Hurricane Michael waited until Cruisin’ ended and is — so far — steering east of Mississippi.
A study in 2016 showed Cruisin’ The Coast had an economic impact of $28.6 million, and had grown by 35 percent in 15 years.
Edgewater Mall stores and especially the food court always have good business the week of Cruisin’, said Terry Powell, mall manager. This year people stayed around to the end. “Sunday was actually very good,” he said.
Chett Harrison, general manager of Golden Nugget Casino Biloxi, said he was at the first Cruisin’ The Coast meeting organized by Dick Stewart, director of marketing at Casino Magic in Biloxi. Stewart had been in Reno, Nevada, and saw how Hot August Nights car show drew crowds and thought it could work in South Mississippi, Harrison said.
“Cruisin’ The Coast has grown into a magnificent driver of business in what is normally a slow time,” Harrison said. He drives down the beach to work every day during the event and wishes for another event that could have the same impact on the Coast.
Some of the Cruisers go home with more than event T-shirts and souvenir glasses. Bailey said $20,000 in prize money was handed out the last day and the winner was announced for the 1968 Camaro Make-A-Wish raffle car.
The winner was a Louisiana man who said it was his dream car, Bailey said. The Make-A-Wish raffle vehicle is a 1968 Chevy C10 ST pickup for the 2019 event that runs Oct. 6-13.
This was the first year the tall orange rubber cones were placed down the center of the lanes on U.S. 90 in Biloxi for about 6 miles from the lighthouse west to Edgewater Mall.
“No, we didn’t have to close any lanes,” said Maj. Christopher De Back with the Biloxi Police Department. Friday night some of the intersections were closed and traffic lights were set to flashing to keep traffic moving at the Coast Coliseum and Treasure Bay Casino, he said. Saturday night a few more lights were flashing, he said.
“Traffic flowed the whole time,” he said, and both Cruisers and residents got where they were going, he said, although it might have taken two cycles to get through a traffic light.
“The cones work,” said Biloxi Police Chief John Miller. “I know people don’t like to see them,” he said, but if anything bad were to happen, Miller said his department could quickly have traffic down to one lane and have a lane open for emergency responders.
“Anything could happen,” he said.
This year the only tragedy was a Louisiana man died Oct. 4 in Gulfport when the door of a 1951 GMC pickup in which he was riding popped open and a vehicle ran over him. The driver of the truck was charged with DUI and the passenger reportedly was not wearing a seat belt.