An outstanding Cruisin’ MainStreet fills the downtown
What a beautiful night it was downtown, with clear springtime weather and temperatures in the low 70s, classic cars on the streets and ‘50s music in the air. The sidewalks, stores and restaurants were packed. The downtown never looked better. There, on the corner of Bellevue and Central Avenues, was the chair of the event for many years, Angela Donio, dressed in her 1950s best: white shirt, rolled-up jeans and a scarf around her neck.
I’m proud to say I am one of her four sons. She’s taught us a lot of lessons throughout the decades: how to have faith, the importance of family, how to succeed in business and how to give back to the community. All of those aspects and more were on display as she made sure another Cruisin’ MainStreet took the town back to the 1950s, when Friday nights were the big night to go out in town.
The 1950s was the beginning of the era of cruising the streets of Hammonton’s central commercial district. It was a way to see and be seen in the 1950s well into the 1980s. We’ve asked Angela many times about her favorite part of Cruisin’ MainStreet. Invariably, she says it’s in the beginning of the evening, when she looks up and the modern-day cars are gone, the classic cars are in their place and the entire downtown looks like it has gone back in time to the 1950s, when she was a teenager.
As in years past, Angela presided over the games and contests, which included perennial standards like bubble gum blowing and hula hooping. There was also a costume contest.
These all went on along with other festivities at the corner of Central and Bellevue Avenues.
If you’ll pardon the pun, the event found another gear this year. There were a lot of potential reasons why, but the most concrete one was the fair and dry weather that was present all week leading up to Cruisin’.
The cars and the people seemed to come from everywhere.
There were classics from different decades, from the 1920s to modern-day supercars. Nearly every spot on the streets was taken, including Bellevue Avenue, Central Avenue, N. Egg Harbor Road down well past Pleasant Street as well as portions of 12th Street. Parking areas throughout downtown were also filled with vintage vehicles.
It was a sight to behold. By the time I walked up to my two-tone (Woodland Green on top, Surf Green on the bottom) 1953 Chevrolet 210 (a car my mother owned before I did), it was nearly 8 p.m. and cars were already cruising town like they were land yachts from a bygone era. I opened the door of my car, turned the key in the ignition and turned on the lights.
I was about to leave my parking spot at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Horton Street when I saw my mother waving at me from across the street, grinning ear-to-ear and giving me the “thumbs up” sign. I grinned back, returned the “thumps up” gesture, and pulled into the stream of classics that were already driving back and forth on Bellevue Avenue.
And I thought: It’s a fantastic payoff tonight for all her hard work on the event. MainStreet Hammonton and the Cruisin’ Classics Auto Club do contribute a lot to it as well. She even hands out a number of posters to businesses herself. She’s good at the little things, and the big things. It’s a joy to watch her at that corner the night of Cruisin’ MainStreet, enjoying herself as she continues to give back to Hammonton and its downtown. She’s been committed to it for decades.
My mother graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1956, so you can do the math.
It was a warm feeling to see her going strong, still doing what she loves in the town she loves, last Friday night, with her children and grandchildren around her.
This past Monday, May 22, was her birthday—and I think it’s safe to say one of her favorite presents was seeing the fun and success of Cruisin’ MainStreet, an event she’s helped lead for 29 years. Happy Birthday, Mom! You make us all so proud.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.