Michael Thomas loves coffee. Curt Kellerman loves cars. Together, they assembled a car show that gives a jolt to Midtown Rockford.
You never know when inspiration is going to hit. For Michael Thomas, it was in 2018 while watching TV.
“I saw a car show where the emphasis was coffee and car gatherings,” says Thomas, a pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Rockford. “I went online and saw that Cars & Coffee wasn’t a registered trademark name.”
Thomas, who is also on the board at Katie’s Cup, a coffee shop at 502 Seventh St. in Midtown Rockford, immediately saw an opportunity to do something special. He reached out to several local car group organizers. When Curt Kellerman, a longtime car enthusiast, responded, the two met up at Katie’s Cup and looked across the street at the parking lot of Rockford Public Schools (RPS) headquarters.
“There are over 500 parking spots around that wonderful building and another 120 or so on Seventh, Sixth and Fifth streets,” Thomas says. “I told Curt, ‘This is a great place to hold a car show,’ and he agreed.”
Thomas and Kellerman launched Cars & Coffee the following summer, and since then they’ve expanded the show to the first Saturday morning of the month, from April to October.
The show welcomes cars of all kinds, vintage and new, from dozens of car clubs and individuals in the Rockford area and beyond. For information on the latest shows, head to carsandcoffeerockford.com.
“Curt is the car guy and I’m the coffee guy,” jokes Thomas. “He was able to organize car groups, and together we managed to get some sponsors to cover some of the expenses and publicity.”
Cars & Coffee has steadily grown each year, from 60 to 100 cars per show in 2019 to nearly double that amount last summer. Attendance is growing as well, with 300 to 500 people showing up to admire the cars each month. Sponsorship has also grown, with several companies taking on major sponsorship roles. It’s all part of Cars & Coffee’s mission to bolster community in Rockford’s Midtown District, located just to the east of downtown.
“The wonderful thing about Cars & Coffee is that there is no admission charge and no registration charge for car owners,” says Thomas. “If a car owner wants to participate, they just need to call us or email us.”
In addition to showing or admiring the cars, Thomas and Kellerman are always looking for volunteers.
“Finding and recruiting volunteers is our biggest challenge,” says Thomas. “Our families are always there to help, and we have church volunteers, but we’re always looking for people to help with registration, serving coffee and donuts, and just generally helping us out. It’s one of the growing pains that comes with the success of the show.”
There are a variety of prizes handed out to the fan-favorite cars, everything from restaurant gift cards to car-related products and services.
“We’re really grateful to our sponsors,” says Thomas. “They do a fantastic job helping keep our event free and helping with our marketing and promotion. We’re also very thankful that RPS 205 lets us use its parking lot for free. We’re really proud of our wonderful event. It’s pet-friendly, it’s bike-friendly and it helps bring people together in Midtown Rockford.