SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - The opening weekend of the 18th annual Cruisin' the Coast is just days away. The event has drawn thousands of tourists to the area for years. Of course, these tourists bring a heavy economic impact to the coast by booking hotel rooms and shopping in our stores. But, one of the heaviest areas of impact will be our restaurants.
"In 1996, we had our first event with 374 vehicles that showed up, we had no idea what would happen," said Cruisin' director, Woody Bailey.
Eighteen years later, the numbers are expected to top 8,000. That kind of an increase doesn't happen without some positive side effects, which is what director, Woody Bailey, hoped for.
"We're impacting the economy and that was our whole mission from the very beginning is to impact the economy of the Gulf Coast during a slow time of the year," said Bailey.
What used to be a post-Labor Day slump, is now one of the biggest spikes of the year for many businesses across the coast, especially restaurants. Mark Cruthirds owns Brooklyn Pizzeria in Hardy Court in Gulfport. That's the place cruisers first meet on Sunday, October 5 which is opening day of Cruisin' the Coast.
Cruthrids has been serving up his pizzas since the beginning.
"We've seen it grow and grow, and it just keeps growing," said Cruthirds.
The event's expansion has called for Cruthirds to double his staff for the demand.
"Of course we can't accommodate 8,000 people, but I tell you what, we'll pack this place out," said Cruthirds.
Another restaurant planning for the crowds, is Slap Ya Momma's. The BBQ joint also has a location in Hardy Court, but owner Henry Wintzell is also getting ready for his first year on the main drag in Biloxi at his new location.
"We know it's going to be crazy out here. We're just trying to prepare for it," said Wintzell.
He's called in an extra freezer truck, and is planning on smoking almost 14,000 pounds of barbecue during the week-long car party. That's more than he normally produces in a month. But, he's not complaining.
"Hey, it's a great opportunity for locals to shine. And we want to be one of those locals shining," said Wintzell.
The cars will start pulling into Hardy Court Sunday morning, and registration will re-open on Monday.