Special Section: Route 66 Rendezvous


SAN BERNARDINO -- Don't count the Route 66 Rendezvous totally out for this year.

The San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce is looking at the possibilities for holding a scaled- back version of this 23-year-old signature event.

"There is a concern that if we don't have an event this year, it may never come back," said Jim Gerstenslager, the chairman of the board of directors of the chamber and the San Bernardino Convention and Visitors Bureau. "If there is a possibility, through some means, that we could put on a smaller event, just to keep the enthusiasm going, it might make sense."

Because of the elimination of redevelopment agencies statewide, the Convention and Visitors Bureau has lost its funding source and will cease operations at the end of March.

The bureau staff organized the Rendezvous, signing up both the vendors and the owners of classic automobiles, which have drawn some 500,000 visitors to San Bernardino in recent years.

Those employees will be let go in a few weeks and the California Welcome Center, which is run under a wing of the bureau, will also cease operations.

The chamber may assume "a custodial role" of the Convention and Visitors Bureau while it's in a "dormant stage," which would give it "some kind of control over the Rendezvous," Gerstenslager said.


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But nothing has been settled.

"A lot of people have a lot of ideas and suggestions, but until we come up with solutions, there's not going to be a Rendezvous," Gerstenslager said.

Westside auto enthusiast Danny Flores, who owns a 1952 Chevy, said, "The window for opportunity is now if there is going to be something in September."

In an effort to win acceptance for low-rider vehicles in the Route 66 Rendezvous, Flores organized an alternative event - on the same weekend - which drew vehicles and visitors from around the Southland.

Now, at age 69, Flores said it's too much work for him to revive his event.

Nevertheless, cancellation of the Rendezvous has created a vacuum among Southern California classic-car owners, Flores said.

In the absence of civic leadership, several downtown area restaurants and other businesses should work together to develop a car cruise event, he said.

"This is a void. If San Bernardino doesn't come up with something, Ontario or Rancho Cucamonga will," said Jerry Casillas, the owner of the Windjammer store and the nearby Ray's Deli, two E Street businesses that have benefitted from Rendezvous crowds.

"I want to see this signature event saved," said Judi Penman, the chamber's president and chief executive officer.

"With the (city) bankruptcy, this is something people can hold onto for hope.... It's important to hoot and and holler and have fun," Penman said.

In an announcement last week, Jack Brown, the chairman and CEO of San Bernardino-based Stater Bros. Markets, said "we need to put the Rendezvous temporarily on hold so that we can come back bigger and better."

Stater Bros. is the title sponsor for the event.

Brown could not be reached for comment Friday about the chamber's potential plan to hold a smaller event this year to preserve the tradition.

In an interview Thursday, Brown said that Stater Bros. and its vendors together contributed more than $600,000 worth of goods and services to the Rendezvous.

He said word that the Convention and Visitors Bureau was closing came as a big surprise and that last year he signed a five-year agreement with the bureau to continue Stater Bros.' sponsorship of the event.


Reach Jim via email, call him at 909-386-3855, or find him on Twitter @JSteinbergsRoad.