On a sunny summer morning, Evan Kingsley stands next to his mint condition, baby blue, 1966 Chrysler New Yorker in a lot near the Peekskill waterfront.
He happily takes the time to chat with onlookers about the car’s unique body design, meticulously restored upholstery, and classic dashboard details. Around him, hundreds of other cars, from souped-up street racers to vintage classics and everything in between, are proudly on display.
It’s all part of Westchester Cars & Coffee (WC&C), a Sunday morning meetup of car lovers that attracts approximately 300 participants per week and fills up two large parking lots along South Water Street, adjacent to the Peekskill Brewery and Homestyle Desserts Bakery. It is traditionally held from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., in part so automotive obsessives can spend the rest of the day with their families.
“The thing I like the most about this is that it attracts people from all walks of life,” says Kingsley. “All ages, races, it just brings everyone together.”
On the other side of the lot, Corvette owner Basil Kazepis agrees. “We all have the same sickness, and that’s cars.”
Kazepis founded Cars & Coffee with a few friends he had met on an online message board for Corvette enthusiasts. The group held their first meeting in a vacant lot next to a Yorktown Dunkin’ Donuts in August of 2012, playing host to less than 10 cars.
Basil and his friend Dom, a founding member of the group who passed in 2019, shared many of the duties of organizing and promoting the event.
“He and I worked hand in hand in getting it up and running,” says Kazepis. “He would do the mailing list, I would do the pictures, we would trade off.”
One of those duties was printing cards with QR codes leading to Cars & Coffee’s website and placing them on the windshields of any “cool” cars they spotted in the area. Soon word began to spread, and the vacant lot began to fill up.
“Rather quickly we got to 50 or 60 cars, which at the time we thought was unbelievable,” says Kazepis.
At the end of the 2019 season, the lot’s 800-car capacity was cut dramatically by the construction of a Popeye’s right in the middle for drive-through access. Kazepis knew it was time for a change of scenery.
After consulting with Peekskill developer and Hot Rod Hotel owner Louie Lanza, Peekskill Brewery owner Keith Berardi, and Homestyle Bakery owner Laura Timmons, it was decided that the Peekskill Waterfront would be the new home of Westchester Cars & Coffee.
A big part of Cars & Coffee’s relaunch was intended not only to boost the visibility of local businesses, but also to expose visitors to the City of Peekskill itself.
“We love Peekskill,” says Kazepis, a Cortlandt resident. “We love the people, the vibe of Peekskill. I always wanted to bring attention to Peekskill in a positive way.”
After a few successful meetups in early spring of 2020, Westchester Cars & Coffee went on an indefinite hiatus due to Covid concerns. The event became nomadic, having pop-up gatherings around the area, but Kazepis always knew they’d end up back in Peekskill.
Working closely with Peekskill Police Chief Don Halmy and City Manager Andrew Stewart, WC&C arranged to make their return to Water Street on July 4, 2021. It was welcome news to Homestyle Bakery’s Laura Timmons, whose business had suffered during the past year.
“We’re able to open earlier, and do breakfast, which we’ve never done before,” says Timmons. “Everything always helps, especially because of Covid where we’ve lost wholesale business because of people that have closed.”
Kazepis wants to be a good neighbor to the area’s residents, as well. There are rules about speeding, aggressive driving, and noise that are generally followed by the event’s participants — although any automotive noise tends to be well below the regular passing of a 92-decibel MetroNorth train.
In the future, Westchester Cars & Coffee plans on doing more community outreach by holding raffles, partnering with local youth organizations, and hosting Toys for Tots events. It recently presented Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP), which operates a nearby shelter, with a $500 donation.
For Kazepis, WC&C is a true labor of love. He spends his own money on the event, and often must cancel plans or cut vacations short to ensure his attendance on Sunday mornings. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Over the years I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve made in my life through Cars & Coffee,” he says. “It’s a great community and great people.”
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Christian Larson, who lives in Peekskill, is Editor-at-Large of River Journal North, and host of its podcast RiverTalk. He is also an event planner. Visit him > capngoodtimes.com.