Dream Cruise wears out welcome for some neighboring businesses

Payne Lubbers
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — As exhaust fumes stink up Woodward from all the classic cars motoring up and down the avenue ahead of Saturday's Dream Cruise, some business owners and cruisers are getting tired of the congestion and commercialization of the event.

After 25 years, the cruise isn't what it used to be, they say.

After 25 years, the traffic and crowds at the Dream Cruise have grown so much that some neighboring businesses and even some cruisers have tired of the endless traffic jam.

These local auto aficionados have been gathering at Duggan's Irish Pub in Royal Oak for months to show off their hot rods, restorations and unusual rides.   

"Everybody is trying to sell something now. That's the worst thing I think," Duggan's general manager Larry Payne said. "So many T-shirt vendors, people selling license plate signs, anything to do with (the Dream Cruise). It seems like it's every five feet down Woodward."

Located right off Woodward, the two-story Kelly-green pub has been a gathering spot for cruisers to show off their rides since the event's inception 25 years ago. But the cruise has changed since the first one in 1995, Payne said.

"Back when this started, it was just a cruise. Nobody was really trying to profit on anything," Payne said. "Obviously, we here at Duggan's get busier because the crowds and we're selling our drinks and food, but other than that we don't get into selling anything outside for the profit."

Duggan's Irish Pub general manager Larry Payne talks about how the Woodward Dream Cruise has changed over the years. "Everybody is trying to sell something now."

The first Woodward Dream Cruise started in 1995 as a fundraiser for a community soccer field in Ferndale. Twenty-five years later, the annual cruise draws an estimated 1.5 million people and 40,000 classic cars, and sponsorships from such companies as Ford Motor Co., AAA, Kroger and Batteries Plus.

"The one down thing for me is the corporate involvement now," he said. "The first five years this was going, there was hardly any corporate sponsorship or anything. But now, it just seems so commercialized."

Despite losing some of the familiar charm that came with the quaint gathering of car lovers, Payne said Duggan's still enjoys the increase in business the cruise brings throughout the summer, adding the pub has about five times as many visitors in the summer months than the cruising off-season.

While the official cruise starts the third Saturday of August, Payne said cruisers start showing up to Duggan's as early as May.

"People always ask, 'Are you gonna be busier this year than last year?' We max out our building every single night (during cruise week)," he said. "We try to stick to capacity only because if we actually try to pack out the building our servers can't get around and sell anything."

While Duggan's remains a popular hub for classic car enthusiasts during the weekend-long cruise run-up, some longtime Duggan's faithful complained the event has become too crowded. 

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Standing next to her bright yellow 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in the Duggan's parking lot, cruiser Lisa Allen said the event feels more cramped every year. 

"It's almost out of control. It's almost just a huge traffic jam now," she said. "It's fun in the weeks prior, but each day you see the traffic get thicker and thicker and thicker. It's insane."

Now that the Woodward Dream Cruise draws well over a million visitors, other classic car events have tried to emulate its success. Founded in 2004, the Back to the Bricks classic car show in Flint runs the week of the Dream Cruise and draws more than 500,000 visitors annually. 

"I think a lot of people are starting to go up to the cruise in Flint now," said Allen's friend and fellow cruiser, Kimberley Williams. "I think a lot of overflow is happening to other places from here because this is such a congested area."

Traffic control

To fight the traffic congestion caused by the 10-mile long parade of cruisers, the Oakland County Sheriff's Office will implement a temporary traffic order that prohibits commercial vehicles, vehicles with trailers and any vehicle over 10,000 pounds from driving on Woodward between Eight Mile and the loop in Pontiac.

“This traffic control order will streamline the flow of traffic, enhance the cruise viewing experience and add a layer of protection for those attending the event," Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in a statement.

Drivers who violate the order will be immediately directed off Woodward and face being ticketed if they refuse to comply.

"Since we have implemented this order for the last few Dream Cruise events, the feedback has been positive from our citizens as some of the congestion has been alleviated making the day more enjoyable for spectators.”

The Oakland County Sheriff's Office and local police issued more than 200 traffic and ordinance citations for drag racing, reckless driving, driving while intoxicated and other traffic violations during last year's event. 

Woodward Dream Cruise spokesman Mitch Loney said event planners are working to ease traffic congestion and parking issues caused by the cruise. SMART Bus will provide easy transportation for event-goers not participating in the actual cruise.

"For people that are local or close to the area, if they can get an Uber or Lyft down there, they can hop on the SMART Bus," he said. "They would then be able to use that in hopes that it would cut down on some of that extra thru-traffic throughout the route. All signs are pointing to a long-term partnership with them."

Loney said conversations among event organizers have primarily focused on the flow of people through Woodward, and less on the total amount of visitors. 

"With the event being so family-focused and all the proceeds going back to the communities themselves, each community gets a cut from the event," Loney said. "I think that's kind of the spin on it. We do love the crowds, and we love the people coming out, and we're trying to manage it as best as we possibly can."

Stay open or closed?

Some businesses have poked fun at the inconvenience caused by the massive gathering of people and automobiles in the normally quiet residential communities of suburban Detroit. In the past, The Magic Bag in Ferndale has adorned its marquee with witty messages such as: "DREAM CRUISE: DELIVERANCE ON WHEELS, BECAUSE YOU CAN'T HANG OUT AT WALMART ALL THE TIME."

While many bars and restaurants remain open during the cruise to serve the hundreds of thousands of visitors, other businesses along Woodward close down for the jam-packed weekend. In Birmingham, Affordable Flowers owner John Curzydlo says his shop will close early on Friday and close all day on Saturday.

"I would say it's a little bit of an inconvenience for us," Curzydlo said. "But I see how it benefits a lot of the restaurants ... like the ice cream store at the end of our strip center. He makes a ton of money that weekend."

A 1959 Austin Healey is among the cars parked at Duggan's Irish Pub in Royal Oak, Mich. on Aug. 7, 2019.   The pub has been a gathering spot for cruisers to show off their rides since the Woodward Dream Cruise's inception 25 years ago.

Curyzdlo said his business has closed on Dream Cruise weekend for nearly the last 25 years. He added that while he loses walk-in customers during the weekend, the shop still provides floral arrangements for weddings and funerals during that time. 

"Other businesses, it's their time. I'm busy on Valentine's," he said. "Everybody kind of needs their one good day of good business." 

Ferndale resident Phil Guadagni has been bringing his cherry-red, fully restored 1950 Cadillac Series 61 to Duggan's for decades. 

"I've been coming since the first one," he said. "I can't even keep track of how many years it's been."

While Gaudagni said he still enjoys the nostalgia of the Dream Cruise, he added that event is becoming too crowded for him and is unsure whether he'll participate in the actual cruise on Saturday. 

"It used to be fun, but it ain't that much fun anymore," he said. "But I like Duggan's still."