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There were no cars lining the curbs in downtown Paris this morning after Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that closed non-essential businesses took effect overnight. The loss of local business and the cancellation of events are dealing a financial blow to businesses and local governments.

For more than a decade, the Paris downtown square would once a month fill with antique cars for a night of fellowship. Now, due to recent changes to the downtown roadways, the tradition is coming to an end.

The First Friday Cruise Nights, as they came to be called, began in the summer of 2007 after Lamar County resident Bobby Slagle wanted to find a way to reminisce about a bygone era.

“That plaza meant a lot to me when I was growing up as a teenager,” Slagle said. “I went up to the plaza one Sunday afternoon in one of my old cars and had a bite to eat or something, and wondered if we couldn’t do something to bring back some of those memories. So that’s when I got to thinking and came up with the idea to maybe start the cruise nights.”

After running the idea by city officials and getting it approved, Slagle said, the event began to grow in popularity as more and more antique car owners became aware of the monthly gathering. Early on, the First Friday Cruise Nights would see a turnout of about 20 or so antique car owners, but over the years it grew until more than 75 car owners would turn out each month.

“We had different places around town advertising it, and so we had about 20 or 25 cars the first time,” Slagle said. “It grew and kind of took on a life of its own. Over the years it got so big — we’d have upwards of 75 cars — that sometimes not everyone was even able to park on the plaza.”

The monthly events became popular for spectators as well. The square would fill with families coming to admire the cars of yesteryear, and the vehicles’ owners were more than happy to talk to passers-by about their automobiles, many of which had seen extensive work put into preserving them. On some nights, the event was further bolstered by live music on the square.

“For me, that was the best memory I’ll have from those nights — the people,” Slagle said. “We all had a good time, and a lot of the guys would talk about what the cars meant to them, and if they built it they could talk about that. And spectators would come, and they might say, ‘Oh my family had one of those when I was young.’ It was a great experience all around and that was my favorite part of it.”

However, after the recent round of alterations made to the roads around the square, such as adding parallel parking sports up and down the street, Slagle said he realized it would be difficult to continue the tradition.

“The way they’ve done the square now isn’t any good for us,” Slagle said. “Some of those cars are really valuable and have had a lot of work go into them, and if you have to parallel park somebody might bump into you. … And the road is more narrow too. So that’s why I’ve decided to call it off.

“We were still having good crowds and everyone was still enjoying coming, but it just doesn’t work for us with the way the roads are now.”

Some city officials have asked Slagle if he wants to move the event elsewhere, such as the downtown Farmers Market, but Slagle said he’s not interested in holding it elsewhere.

“For me, it was always more about the plaza — where we held it — than the cars,” he said. “The square holds a special place in my heart, and I’m just not interested in doing it somewhere else.”

Slagle did say, however, that he encourages anyone who wants to to take up the mantle and organize a new event somewhere else in town.

“I think it would be great if someone decided to move it somewhere else, but anywhere else wouldn’t mean to me what the plaza did, and I wouldn’t want to move it myself,” he said. “I think we had a good thing while it lasted.”

Tommy Culkin is a staff writer for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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