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Chased away from shopping center, vintage car show goes on

Growing crowds at a popular Saturday night car show irritate Target store managers and force a move.

By LOGAN D. MABE

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


NORTHDALE -- For more than five years, Ronnie Setser's Saturday Night Cruisin' car show has been a fixture in Northdale as vintage and muscle car lovers flocked to the Burger King at N Dale Mabry Highway and Carrollwood Springs Boulevard.

It's not just the wrench turners and horsepower hounds who revel in the weekly outings. Setser caters to all ages, creating a carnival-like atmosphere for kids. With the flair of a ringmaster, he leads the Hula Hoop contests and Simon Says games in which every child wins a trophy.

"It's my exercise, it's my therapy," said Setser, the 40-year-old Original Carrollwood resident who owns a paint and body shop in Tampa. "You get around those kids and car people and it just changes you. It makes you feel good."

Setser is so committed to this family event that he married his wife, Kim, at one of the shows almost four years ago.

But the show's popularity and steady growth led to conflicts with the nearby Target department store, and on Aug. 12 Saturday Night Cruisin' abruptly moved up the road. Now, it's being staged in the parking lot of the Burger King near the Hollywood 20 movie theater on Van Dyke Road.

Setser says Target managers never understood the nature of the shows, and came to view the car enthusiasts as "riff raff." Target officials say the show simply outgrew its corner of the parking lot, and that speed demons posed a safety risk to customers and workers at the store.

"The show has continued to grow and has actually grown to the extent that it has consistently taken over a fair percentage of Target's parking lot," said Minneapolis-based Target spokeswoman Patty Morris.

"I know also that there have been a couple of incidents in recent weeks where Target team members (employees) and guests (customers) feared for their safety. We've made every reasonable attempt to gain the cooperation of the Burger King and Ronnie Setser for a meaningful event that's safe for our guests. However, our efforts were not successful."

Target called in its attorneys and got an injunction to move the show, which was in apparent violation of Burger King's lease with property manager Kimco.

"It's not a reflection of any ill will on the part of Target toward Burger King or Ronnie Setser," Morris said. "Unfortunately, we felt that we needed to get Kimco involved to enforce the lease with Burger King because the car show was spilling over into Target's parking lot."

Target store manager Donna Hughes agreed that the show simply outgrew its home.

"We've been good neighbors for five years with them," Hughes said. "It just wasn't a good environment for the guests who wanted to come in and shop."

Hughes, the source of the "riff raff" comment, said she was referring to a fringe element the show attracted. Young men in tricked-up Honda Civics sometimes tore through the parking lot or set up impromptu beer bashes.

"There were people sitting on guests' cars drinking beer," she said. "That's where that comment came from, and he took that totally out of proportion."

Setser is adamant about the rules governing his weekly car shows, which regularly draw several hundred people from all walks of life.

"Any time you get a crowd of people you're going to get a bad apple or two," Setser said. "But we have zero tolerance. If you spin your tires, you're gone. If you're playing a boom box, you're gone. If you're drinking, you're gone. We laid the rules out simple and we kept it that way. But the show got so big it was hard for us to man the whole parking lot by ourselves."

While Setser busied himself leading the fun and games for the kids, he hired an off-duty sheriff's deputy to police the crowd. In the inner circle formed by classic Chevys and Fords gleaming under street lights, there was never a problem. But on the darkened edges of the event, the occasional hot rodder could be heard laying down a patch of tire rubber.

"I've had to run off a few," Setser said. "But in more than five years that I've been there, I've only had to ask six or eight people to leave."

The conflict came to a head several weeks ago when Setser implored Hughes to come out and view the goings-on first hand.

When she declined, Setser got on the wireless microphone he uses to encourage children in the Hula Hoop contest and asked the crowd, "How about us going over there and meeting them?" Soon, he was joined by a crowd of more than 50 as they made their way to the Target lobby.

"We walked in there with grandmothers and children and all we asked was for them to come and see the show," Setser said. When store managers declined, Setser said the group left the lobby without incident, except for the one small protest. "Somebody started chanting, "Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart,' and everybody started saying it, and I walked a little faster."

So far the new venue seems to be working out. The parking lot is bigger, the Burger King is newer and there's an ice cream store and a nice restaurant nearby.

The kids still take center stage and each goes home with that trophy.

"We don't want a battle with Target," Setser said. "Whether we moved or stayed, we want people to see car shows for what they are, not what they ain't."

- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 226-3464 or by e-mail at mabe@sptimes.com.

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