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Staff file photo by Tim Barber / People enjoy looking at a wide range of historic automotive vehicles during a car cruise-in at the Labor Day In The Streets festival in Fort Oglethorpe last September.

Chickamauga's first large-scale public event amid the pandemic is scheduled for Saturday, July 25, when cars and community members are invited to the downtown square for a cruise-in.

"I'm kind of scared as hell because it's a unique time, but that being said, I had a half a dozen of these things last year," said organizer Kevin Martin, who is counting on that experience and the respect of the community he witnessed last year to help him host a successful event amid concerns for public safety. "I've been chomping at the bit to do something, but at the same time I do take the concerns very seriously."

Martin will require that face masks be worn by all and said he "will have as many as [he] can come up with to give out." He'll also be personally escorting participating cars to their parking spots, leaving one space open between each automobile.

He expects around 200 cars.

"This cruise-in community loves it and asks me all the time when we're having another one," Martin said.

This is the second summer for the monthly series, which started as a way to draw people to his pizza restaurant but quickly turned into a driving mechanism for the city's economy. Downtown merchants and restaurants stay open to welcome the crowds, and this year Martin is adding live music.

"I won't say they're the biggest thing in town every year, but pretty much. It's Ironman and this," he said.

The annual triathlon, which brings throngs of cyclists and supporters to the small town, was moved to 2021 last week.

The city's small-town atmosphere helps to make the cruise-in unique, said Martin, as many are held in parking lots and lack the variety of vendors and entertainment of his event.

He also noted that the event is open to all kinds of participants, and not relegated to a particular style of car. One of the regular attendees was accepted into the World of Wheels national car show, and another brings his truck built by hand from scrap wood, said Martin.

"As long as you've got a cool car that you love and you like being around other people with cool cars, you're good to go," he offered to those who would like to participate.

The street in front of his Phil's Primetime Pizza shop will close at 5 p.m., at which point he'll start escorting in cars.

Attendees can peruse the automobiles and enjoy music from 6-9 p.m.

If all goes well, Martin hopes to use the events as a springboard to launch a downtown farmers market. It's a concept he's been planning for years. He was set to host the first one in early March, but then the pandemic hit.

"If I can make this happen and we don't have any major issues, I'm going to sit down with the Chamber [and the city] again," he said. "I'm praying for a market this year."

While those events will capitalize on the same small-town atmosphere, Martin wants to use them as another way to draw people from outside the area.

"I didn't think there was really a way to give back [to the community] just making pizzas in a pizza place, but then once I hit on these little event ideas I thought, 'Oh wow, I can do something good for everybody.' Honestly, Chickamauga was dying," he said.

Contact Jennifer Bardoner at jbardoner@timesfreepress.com.

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