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Cruise the Couve returns July 21

Vancouver's annual Cruise the Couve returns July 21.

The Couve will get Cruised again this summer.

July 21 has been announced as this year’s date for the massive cool-car festival that has been seizing the streets of downtown Vancouver annually for the past decade.

Organizer and downtown merchant Bryan Shull of Trap Door Brewing now is on the hunt for sponsors for the free event. Visit the new website — cruisethecouve.net — for details. Depending on how deeply you want to dig into your pocket, your business can get featured in advertisements, posters, T-shirts, event maps and more. You can see your logo in lights on the Kiggins Theatre’s big screen; you can even sponsor a whole street where a car-show-within-the-cruise will be staged.

Even though the event always is free to attend or participate in, it cost about $20,000 to put on last year, Shull said. This year he expects that tab — for such necessaries as portable bathrooms, extra police coverage for the day and liability insurance — to rise.

“Police presence was the most expensive, and the city paid for about half of it last year. That’s a big expense, and we hope for the same deal this year,” Shull said.

Second generation

This is the second generation of Vancouver’s big car cruise, which began under a different name in 2009. It was the brainchild of Phil Medina, a Clark County cruiser who spent his high school weekends continuing his parents’ grand tradition of piloting vintage vehicles up and down prominent local streets, including Highway 99 in Hazel Dell as well as hot spots in Longview and Portland. Medina eventually decided to cruise back to downtown Vancouver and its Main Street “gut.” All car enthusiasts and clubs were welcomed to a Saturday extravaganza in mid-July called Cruisin’ the Gut, and many thousands turned out. Medina, local merchants and the city of Vancouver all were amazed.

Cruise forward a decade, though, and the picture gets complicated. Last year, Medina, disputing the city’s insurance requirements and objecting to rising police costs, decided not to sponsor what was by then a beloved local tradition. Shull stepped into the breach, forming a committee with other downtown merchants and lining up sponsors. They even took it a step further than Medina had done and quickly secured legal nonprofit corporation status, according to Shull.

The event was renamed, but Medina had his lawyers warn organizers that Cruise the Couve was still too similar and violated his intellectual property rights. Widespread reaction was a collective shrug. Most were thrilled that a downtown Vancouver car cruise was continuing to roll forward; a few were frankly relieved that chubby former name, Cruisin’ the Gut, was slimmed down to something less diabetic. Shull said he never heard from Medina again.

But, ironically, Shull added that he is starting to accrue the same worries about money and organizational challenges. “The dollars have to start flowing in,” he said. “I can see what drove Phil mad.”

Side shows

Last year’s event went as well as could be expected, Shull said. “The hiccups were small, and we learned from them,” he said. “The city was very supportive and great to work with.”

If there was one main complaint about this wide-open event, Shull said, it’s that some folks showed up with pretty mundane vehicles. “Not everyone wants to see Mom’s Honda Civic” on parade, Shull said.

So this year, the cruise will add one closed-off street for a “car show within the cruise” that’ll be reserved for the real eye-catchers, Shull said. He’s hoping local car clubs will be the ones to step in and sponsor that set-aside street and show off their most glorious specimens there.

“We’ll have some side shows in the mix with the cruise,” he said. “We’ll have a way for people to really take in the classics.”

Mom’s Honda Civic remains perfectly welcome to Cruise the Couve, Shull added. Today’s “classic” cars weren’t yet classic when cruising their first guts in the 1950s or 1960s, he figures. “We can accommodate them all,” he said.

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