After company complains, classic car ends up in Prince George’s ends
“When we have these cars, we want to get them out. If they sit all the time, it’s like the blood in your body. It has to flow,” said Beverly Curry, a 76-year-old woman at the short-haired and bespectacled known as “Mustang Sally,” who owns a bright red 1966 six-cylinder Ford Mustang.
People flocked to Marlboro Square almost every Wednesday for the evening car meet which runs from early April to late October. The parking lot adjacent to Advance Auto Parts is transforming into “Hump Day Car Meet and Cruise-In,” a four-hour event meant to bring together the coolest rides and connect others who bond for the love of cars. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the group.
Many of the men and women in attendance have invested years of effort and money in buying and restoring classic cars to their former glory. Some connections go back to childhoods spent at nearby race tracks or encounters at other car shows. Week after week on Hump Day Wednesdays, they cheered on the wheels while building community.
“I love cars, but cars are secondary,” said Terry Daye, a 72-year-old retiree who has brought his ’68 Plymouth GTX since the start of the competition. “I love making my mouth speak with people.”
But in recent months, with many pandemic restrictions lifted and malls trying to resume operations, Marlboro Square property managers said the group could no longer meet in the parking lot and had not been allowed to do it first. One of the last Wednesdays in August, a security guard was patrolling the grounds and warned car fans to leave.
“It’s disruptive for tenants, and those tenants are paying rent,” said Adam Steuer, a Marlboro Square official.
The mall, on the busy Crain Highway in Prince George’s County, houses a beauty supply store, liquor store, grocery store, Advance Auto Parts, Dollar Tree and Nipsey’s, local bar and restaurant, among other companies. Jauhar Abraham, a member of the family business Nipsey’s, said the business had received complaints from June about drinking, playing cards and littering during the car meet. He said he was worried that Nipsey’s would have to close on Wednesdays and raised his concerns with the founders and property managers of the automotive group.
“I don’t support unauthorized dating anywhere,” Abraham, 50, said. “As soon as there is an incident or an accident, we are the ones who are going to have to defend ourselves, and we were not part of it.”
Car enthusiasts, mostly older men and women from Prince George’s County and the surrounding area, say the weekly meet was largely uneventful. The show is meant to provide car owners with camaraderie and a place of respite midweek to enjoy classic cars, not cause trouble, said Van Newman, creator of Hump Day Wednesdays. They also frequent businesses in the center, such as a local Chinese restaurant takeout and a chicken wing restaurant.
The clash pits a company trying to recover from the pandemic against classic car owners for whom weekly car meetups have become a lifeline.
Property managers seemed to see the group more as a liability than a commodity. Steuer, the Marlboro Square manager, said the gathering was not allowed in Marlboro Square because it was a “public safety issue” and the group never obtained the permits or license to hold an event — not that it would have been approved, he added.
Newman, a 70-year-old man with light gray hair on his face from Brandywine, Maryland, sat in the shade under the beauty supply store awning in a blue lawn chair alongside other elderly people in garden chairs. His long-sleeved white shirt said, “I’m not old, I’m a classic.”
Newman said he started the midweek car meeting a decade ago after retiring from a 38-year career with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, first as a bus driver , then train operator and finally station manager. Auto shows are held throughout the week in Prince George parking lots, but there were none on Wednesday, he said.
So, along with his cousin David Proctor and friend Leroy Proctor, he spoke to Advance Auto Parts in Marlboro Square about the possibility of bringing their cars to their lot on Wednesdays. The location provided a central place for many participants traveling from Charles County and through Prince George’s.
Rickey Sampson, assistant manager of Advance Auto Parts, started working at the store four years ago. Car enthusiasts buy their car wash, wax and towels here. The store even allowed Newman to pin auto show flyers to the Coke machine.
“We never had to tell them, ‘Hey, you bring scum.’ It’s not that kind of thing,” Sampson said.
As night fell that late August night, at least 50 cars were driving in and out of the parking lot. Many drivers gathered in rows with car hoods popped off like an exposed candy store aisle. Spectators visiting the nearby Dollar Tree would stop to take a look at the vintage models, which ranged from the 1940s to the 70s.
Marcus Boykin, 50, and Deshawn Clarkson, 62, enjoyed the scene. Boykin got into old school cars because of the 1972 Pontiac GTO his grandfather gave him in high school. Clarkson said he remembered getting in the back seat with his four brothers while his father was driving, shouting “There’s my car!” passing other vehicles. His dad would say, “Someday, boys,” said Clarkson, who now owns eight cars.
“You think of a simpler time and age,” Boykin said. “When you think about society and all that we go through on a daily basis, when you are able to go back to simpler times, it makes you feel better about what is happening now.”
Newman said the group did not receive a response from community members, businesses or property managers. Over the years its popularity and influence grew, with up to 60 cars filling the lot on a good Wednesday.
Abraham of Nipsey’s said some Nipsey employees and customers were unable to enter and exit the parking lot due to traffic.
“A few years ago, the motor show was not so big. Some older cars, older people, I never paid much attention to that,” Abraham said. But the encounter also attracted youngsters, who rushed into the lot, he said.
“Once you create that atmosphere, it spirals out of control,” he added. “They couldn’t control what he became.”
Prince George’s County Police received just one call this year for trespassing and drag racing at the auto meet location, 5775 Crain Highway, on Aug. 31, a Wednesday. Officers responded and were unable to “verify any criminal behavior,” Christina Cotterman, spokeswoman for Prince George’s County Police, said in a statement. Three more Wednesdays — July 20, August 3 and August 24 — police received trespassing calls to the Marlboro Square address and also could not “verify any criminal behavior,” Cotterman said.
Officers have known about the car encounter for years, with no issues reported to county police until recent weeks, Cotterman said.
Avis Thomas-Lester, spokesperson for the county’s Department of Permits, Inspections and Enforcement, said a special event permit is required for organizers who sell tickets, set up stages or sell entertainment. food or alcohol. There are also requirements to ensure safety.
“People have the right to assemble peacefully, but management would be responsible for deciding whether a gathering, such as a meeting of car enthusiasts, would be permitted on their property,” Thomas-Lester said in a statement.
Newman said the group tried to reason with Abraham and management. Over the years, attendees have cleaned up during and after the meet, even bringing their own trash cans to pick up trash dumped in the woods lining the parking lot, he said. They also encouraged people bringing in motorcycles and dirt bikes to behave responsibly.
By early September, Newman was back in the mix. He had received a call from a property manager saying the meeting was not authorized and that the police had been notified. But he still arrived in his Ford van, just to see if anyone showed up and to let them know it was over. As the rain fell, he sat in the driver’s seat with the windows open.
Hump Day Wednesdays were on the schedule until Nov. 2 and it might take some getting used to, he said.
“We’ve had 10 good years,” Newman said. “It’s a shame we couldn’t ride to the end.”
Only one driver showed up for the meeting that evening. Newman told him to spread the word that the group was looking for a new spot.