For locals, downtown Somerville is a destination for many occasions — a night out for a nice meal, an afternoon of shopping or a visit to the weekly farmers’ market, to name a few.
However, the borough is also a hotspot for a less obvious group of visitors — those looking to check out or show off classic cars from all over the world, coming from garages throughout the tristate area.
Somerville has been holding Friday night Cruise Nights for 27 years, a gathering of over 150 classic cars and 2,000 accompanying visitors that line Main Street from North Doughty Avenue to Grove Street from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
One of the largest weekly events of its kind, which Beth Anne Macdonald, executive director of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, said that she gets calls about from all over the United States, has garnered so much popularity partly because it has one-mile-long difference from other car shows — it isn’t held in isolation.
“Unlike many other car shows, ours isn’t held in a parking lot or a strip mall,” said Macdonald. “The fact that people can eat, shop and people-watch makes it so dynamic.”
With so many outdoor cafes in Somerville, Macdonald said that this has become a big part of the puzzle since the event has become so much more interactive. This has brought in visitors — and car owners — from all over.
A quick glance down the street proves as much. On a Friday night, plates from Maryland, New York, Delaware, Connecticut and Pennsylvania can be spotted on 20 to 25 percent of models that are classic American, British, German, Italian and Japanese from the 1930s through the 1980s.
Surprisingly enough, Macdonald said that the massive rain-or-shine event pretty much runs itself. Classic cars and their owners park on Main Street from 4 to 5 p.m. to get a first-come first-served spot in time for the 6 p.m. start time. The show ends at 9. There is no official registration process.
“Cruise Nights bring people in during the summertime when it might otherwise be quiet,” said Macdonald. “People bring their cars and families, but if it looks like it’s going to rain, they simply stay home.”
So how did the nationally acclaimed event begin in downtown Somerville in 1989? The details are a little fuzzy.
According to Macdonald, it was started by a local car club known as the Classic Cruizers, which chose the borough for unknown reasons. As the years went on, word spread throughout the surrounding towns, and the event picked up speed, with more classic car owners heading to Somerville on Friday nights.
Soon enough, word of the event spread to neighboring counties, and finally, to neighboring states. It got to the point where the Borough of Somerville and the Downtown Somerville Alliance took over organizing the event in 2009.
“When I’m downtown on Friday nights, it’s obvious to me that the recognition of this event has really grown,” Macdonald said. “We get people from all over who not only want to participate but want to come see it.”
Somerville’s Cruise Nights
Where: Main Street from North Doughty Avenue to Grove Street
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays from Memorial Day through Labor Day
Registration: None required; spaces are first-come, first-served