SOMERVILLE, NJ - Friday nights on Main Street are synonymous with polished chrome bumpers, fenders with curves, big block engines and more than a few sets of fuzzy dice hanging off rear view mirrors.
Thousands of car enthusiasts and visitors come to Somerville on a Friday night to enjoy the dichotomy of Detroit iron, from Model T Fords, big fin Caddys and high-powered Corvettes to custom hot rods, muscle cars, motorcycles, restored pick-up trucks, imports and oddities that line Main Street between Grove Street and Doughty Street.
The automotive jamboree also brings with it thousands of dollars spent in stores and restaurants throughout the borough on a Friday night.
In deference to the hot rods, cruisers, vintage and exotic cars that have made the borough a destination for car collectors and oglers throughout the tri-state metropolitan area and beyond,the Borough will shut down its high-tech Main Street digital parking meters on Friday nights between 5-8 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
"Cruise Night" is a Friday night tradition that's been going on for decades and has been rated tops in the nation by “Hot Rod” magazine, according to former mayor Brian Gallagher.
Though many car owners have already been parking their cars on Main Street this month, the official kick-off is Friday, May 24th.
“The Friday night Cruizers are a great thing for the town,” said Borough Councilman Ran D Pitts, who also owns Evolve, a clothing store on West Main Street. “It’s one of the longest and best events we’ve ever had, it brings thousands of people to town.”
Pat Mannion, owner of Mannion’s Irish Pub & Restaurant on Main Street, looks forward to Friday nights in the summer because the cruisers drive business through his doors.
“It’s great for all businesses because it brings in thousands to downtown Somerville,” Mannion said. “It’s very much a family- oriented event with lots of people pushing strollers and lots of people walking around with their dogs; eight out of ten people outside last Friday night had dogs, it’s unbelievable. We put out bowls of water and the people know they can come back,” he added, “just keep their dogs happy.”
Borough Clerk Kevin Sluka said phone calls have been coming in to his office the past several weeks asking when the cruisers would start parking their cars along Main Street.
“These are people not from Somerville, but from out-of-town,” Sluka said.
“There are a handful of businesses that do exceedingly well and then there are those that may not see an immediate payback but a residual benefit; people do come back to shop,” Sluka said.
Rick St. Pierre, longtime owner of Verve Restaurant, Bar & Bistro said the Cruizers help to boost tourism in the borough and beyond.
He characterized many of those businesses that benefit as “quick and go’s” – Blue Sheep Ice Cream, Rita’s Italian Ice, Cheech’s coffee shop, Playa Bowls, Alfonso’s and other restaurants.
“We have a walkable Main Street which is attractive to families looking for a slice of pizza and a Coke,” St. Pierre said.
The Cruizers experience also serves to educate out-of-towners about other attractions in Somerset County, St. Pierre said.
For those retailers who consider themselves more upscale, there are benefits to remaining open late on Friday nights, according to Pitts.
“It took me years to learn this. You have to stay open until at least 10 p.m.,” he explained. The crowds are here the town is busy people but the people that come to Verve, Wolfgang’s or Picasso’s, they get out of dinner and when they get out at 830 and start to wander around they come in and spend money,” Pitts said.