Every Saturday night they roll into the Royal Oak Shopping Centre – Ford pickups from the 1930s, deuce coups, Packards, 1950s Chevys. For more than a decade, Francelli’s Coffee House has been the social hub for classic car collectors from across Greater Victoria.
But last Saturday, the regular summer meet and greet went sour.
After Victoria’s classic car regulars basked in the glory of polished chrome at Northwest Deuce Days, they cruised to Francelli’s for the 5 p.m. coffee. It didn’t take long for Robbins Parking staff to start ticketing cars – hotrods specifically, according to witnesses.
Robbins staff handed out less than a dozen parking violation tickets before 30 or 40 classic car collectors drove off. Bob Carter, 68, owner of a 1934 Ford pickup, was barely able to order a coffee.
“I walked outside Francelli’s and Robbins was giving me a ticket – I said it’s three hour parking. They just said it’s not allowed. They wouldn’t answer my questions,” Carter said. He refused to let the ticket agent touch his truck.
“(Robbins) kept asking ‘who is in charge of the car show?’ Nobody is in charge. It isn’t a car show. Everyone kept telling them it isn’t a car show,” said Leslie Hume, owner of an original-green 1949 Austin A40, and a regular at Francelli’s. “It was definitely discrimination. Any hotrod they were writing up a ticket.”
For many of the classic car owners, the tickets, worth about $32, are a shocking slap to the face by Hansbraun Investments, property manager of seven shopping centres in Saanich.
Most of the Saturday night hot-rodders are professionals and seniors – the car scene is coffee and sandwiches, not beer and doughnuts.
“These aren’t young kids screeching around. These guys are lawyers, doctors, police, old guys with passion for cars. It really is a community,” said Andy Collins, owner of Francelli’s Coffee House for the past two years, which has walls packed with photos of classic cars from locals.
“These guys are customers, they spend money here, they are local and all shop here during the week. Why would a lease company try to push business away? The Saturday night car show has been here for years and suddenly they don’t like it?”
Hansbraun distributed a letter to Royal Oak Shopping Centre merchants in May that said the weekly car shows have never been permitted, they create liability and safety issues, and have a negative affect on businesses and customers. The company warned that vehicles would be ticketed or towed, effective May 25.
Victoria Shannon, with Hansbraun Investments and the property manager for Royal Oak Shopping Centre, said the classic cars, at times more than 100, monopolize too much space, to the point where owners have put up caution tape and brought out lawn chairs.
“The car show has been an unauthorized event at the centre for many years. It’s never been allowed and no one asked permission,” Shannon said. “We’ve had so many issues over the years with tenants saying the parking is full and that it’s impacting customers.”
Shannon said eight parking tickets were issued Saturday, and two have since been rescinded. The ticketing came after a period of requests and warnings the car show isn’t a permitted event.
“I had put it off, but I’ve been hearing from tenants that its getting worse,” she said. “We try not to discriminate against classic cars, at the same time we can’t let the event take over the parking lot every Saturday afternoon.
“It is really difficult as a property manager when one group feels entitled to use the property and not ask permission and doesn’t follow the rules.”
Larry Zilinksy, owner of a 1932 Ford Roadster, said he personally talked to merchants to gauge the level of support for the weekly coffee event. Some are against it, but most are in favour, he said.
“The merchants say they support (the cars). It brings in money and people,” Zilinksy said. “We thought things had settled down. That was two months ago, but all of a sudden Saturday night there were tickets – on the Saturday night of Deuce Days.”
“As it stands I don’t think I’ll go back. I don’t know if I’ll be ticketed or what.”
Collins argues that the property manager had authorized the weekly event – for many years as a barbecue night under the previous owner, and then as coffee and sandwiches.
“In April out of the blue Hansbraun called and said they don’t want the car show, that its totally illegal and there are safety issues,” he said. “Why has it been going on for 12 years? They’ve let it go on all this time.
“It’s a bunch of people who turn up in cars. Arguably they’re here for two hours a week. Coming in and giving tickets is bang out of order.”
Shannon said permission has never been granted for a car show. At the same time, she said if the classic car owners can become organized as a group and get the proper insurance, the property manager wants to find a middle ground.
In September the Royal Oak Shopping Centre is planing a fundraising event for Cops for Cancer, which is an opportunity to involve classic car owners, she said.
“We want to find a way for this to be a positive,” she said.
It remains to be seen if classic car owners will organize and seek accommodation with the shopping centre. As it stands now, fury and outrage is building within the community.
Like other classic car owners posting to Hansbraun’s Facbook page, 85-year-old Jim Cain said he won’t shop at Royal Oak.
“We spend a lot of money there. It’s a very handy mall,” he said. “Now we live in Gordon Head. If they don’t want us there Saturdays, we won’t go there anymore.
“It was a good gathering. People came from all over Victoria. You’d meet friends, drink coffee. A lot people came to see the cars,” said Cain, owner of a 1951 Pontiac.
Frank D’Argis said in an email to the News it was embarrassing to watch people on Saturday dig out receipts to prove they were paying customers.
“I was equally embarrassed to see several car owners from the U.S.A. … have to high tail it out of the parking lot before getting a ticket, but not before returning the goods they had purchased from mall businesses,” D’Argis wrote.
Art Wood, owner of a 1951 Chevy and a longtime regular at Francelli’s, said for the Saturday night events, he and others kept the hotrods away from parking spaces near Country Grocer, for instance, and strived to share the space with regular shoppers.
“I been shopping at Royal Oak mall for 34 years. I’m born and raised here. I support the mall seven days a week with groceries and the drug store,” Wood said. “To turn around and do something like that I don’t understand.”