Cars and Coffee draws crowds for vehicles, downtown atmosphere

If you’ve rolled into Downtown Springfield on a Saturday morning recently, you might have seen the mix of classic cars and high-end vehicles collected behind and around COhatch – The Market.

The Cars and Coffee events kicked off in March and will continue every other Saturday through October, with the next one being Saturday, May 22.

What started years ago under the name Café and Octane was initially a way for Organizer Thomas Dillingham III to get a group of his long-time friends together.

“It was more of me and my friends in a car club, and that’s kind of grown as we’ve gotten older and now that we all have families,” says Dillingham, who grew up in Cincinnati before coming to Springfield to attend Wittenberg University.

Springfield became home for Dillingham, and he lived here for 15 years before moving to Huber Heights, where he now lives. But, Springfield is still where his friends are and where he’s drawn.

After hosting the event under its former namesake for a few years at Snyder Park, Dillingham says it drew 20-30 vehicles and was a good way to help bridge the gap between younger and older generations who all have an appreciation for “car culture.”

After bypassing 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dillingham and his friends who help organize the event – Brent Miller, Ben Cantrell, and Frank Hecker – started looking for a new location for 2021.

A chance conversation with one of the owners of The Market Bar in COhatch led to Cars and Coffee moving to its new Downtown setup, gaining interest from other Cars and Coffee groups in Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati, and even adding sponsors to support the event.

Jax Wax, RC Enterprises, COhatch, and The Detail Garage – a detail service shop owned by Dillingham – serve as this year’s sponsors.

Dillingham expressed how thankful he is with how everything for this year’s Cars and Coffee events in Springfield fell into place so seamlessly – from the location to the sponsors to the support from attendees.

“Every week I do it, I see different cars, and they’re impressed with seeing Downtown Springfield for more than just what’s shown on the news,” Dillingham says. “There’s a lot of good people in this town and a lot of good culture in this town and there’s a lot of great architecture here that is a backdrop unlike any other Cars and Coffee event I’ve ever been to … you can’t grow that overnight.”

John Kelly, downtown event programmer for The Greater Springfield Partnership, says new and ongoing events like Cars and Coffee that attract people to Springfield are what help showcase everything the city has to offer.

“Through Cars and Coffee, people are becoming exposed to and aware of our downtown,” Kelly says. 

Events like Cars and Coffee, he says, are great for local people and families to enjoy. And they also provide a way to showcase local businesses, get people to dine at Downtown restaurants and hopefully even attract out-of-town visitors to stay at local hotels.

Even if guests from outside Springfield and Clark County don’t stay over on their first visit, seeing the variety of shopping and dining options in COhatch, along Fountain Avenue and elsewhere Downtown is a great way to encourage visitors to come back for a long weekend to check out what else Springfield has to offer – including Hartman Rock Garden, the Westcott House, and the South Fountain Avenue Historic District, Kelly says.

“One of our main goals is shifting the perspective of Springfield away from the idea that there’s nothing to do here. This is a great way to prove that idea wrong,” Kelly says. “People will come to Springfield for an event, and then in the future when they’re trying to decide what to do with their time, they’ll have seen all the amazing things Springfield has to offer, and it can encourage them to come back.”

When the Springfield Farmer’s Market kicks off in June, Cars and Coffee will shift locations to the parking lot of Clark State College’s Hollenbeck Bayley Creative Arts and Conference Center. Kelly says there’s a possibility of relocating to National Road Commons sometime in the summer also.

Dillingham says he’s also interested in the possibility of using the new Downtown parking garage as a place to stage Cars and Coffee some weekends. He says having the event stay Downtown but be shifted to slightly different sites helps showcase different businesses visitors can enjoy.

“We’re definitely starting to bridge those gaps,” Kelly says. “People think Mother Stewart’s (Brewing Co.) is far away from COhatch, but really, it’s not.

“You could walk from COhatch, grab a DORA drink, and walk to National Road Commons, or Mother’s or the shop on Fountain Ave. Events like this encourage visitors to see how walkable our city really is.”

To keep track of Cars and Coffee event dates, locations and specials, checkout the event Facebook page.
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Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.