Sometimes a great idea just has to wait. In February, America on Wheels and RB Collection Restoration Center announced their partnership to provide joint tours of their automotive museum and restoration center. Visitors would learn about the country’s history of over-the-road transportation before crossing the street to learn about the process of restoration.

They were able to run the tours for approximately one month, welcoming more than 300 guests in that time, before both facilities were forced to close to visitors due to state coronavirus restrictions. But with reopening just around the corner, they will soon be ready to welcome guests who have a passion for transportation history and classic cars.

The formation of a partnership

Prior to purchasing the former A&B Meats building (today known as the Klein Building) at the base of the Hamilton Street Bridge in 2016 and renovating it, RB Collection was located in Breinigsville. It had outgrown its former space and needed to expand due to business growth. An existing relationship with AOW staff led them to the abandoned Klein Building.

“One of the reasons we purchased this building was because of its proximity to AOW. We knew there would be huge synergy,” said Alex Ruozzi, who co-owns RB Collection with his brother, Al Ruozzi. “The location of our facility is key. Linda Merkel of AOW was one of the first people we met with when we considered buying the building. She liked that we wanted to renovate it and preserve its history, not tear it down.”

Allentown Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Scott Unger worked with the Ruozzis to help them secure $300,000 in low-interest loans from three local loan pools that the nonprofit organization administers. The Ruozzis used the loans to renovate the Klein building and then spent nearly $3 million in renovating the property. “We are passionate about restoration. Most of the time it’s restoring classic cars, but we like to renovate old stuff,” says Alex. Since the renovation, the showroom can hold up to 2 cars and the restoration shop can hold 15.

“Right from the beginning there was a shared vision between Alex, Al, Scott and me for what the Klein Building could be and what its reuse could mean to the redevelopment of Allentown’s waterfront,” said AOW Executive Director Linda Merkel.

Being neighbors, it was only natural for the partnership to bloom since both venues focus on classic cars and have a goal of providing education to the community. “The purpose of the joint tour is to educate while enhancing the museum experience.”

Arriving at The Corner

Dubbed the ‘Automobile Corner of America,’ the partners are positioning it as a new tourist attraction in downtown Allentown. Guests buy their tickets at AOW and tour that facility. Then they cross Front Street to visit RB Collection for a guided tour with Owners Alex and Al Ruozzi.

“Visitors see the beautifully restored and maintained cars at AOW and don’t realize how complex and difficult it is to restore a classic car,” Ruozzi explained. “So now they can come across the street to our shop and see not only the classic cars that RB has restored, but also the cars currently under restoration in our garage bays. They get to watch our trained professional technicians working on the cars.”

Tours are offered on Wednesdays and Fridays at 1 pm. Private tours can also be arranged for groups such as car clubs and student groups. For now, the joint tour is included in the ticket price at AOW and will remain that way at least through the end of summer.

Once they are allowed to hold large events again, the partners envision holding car corrals and education sessions for students with hands-on experiences.

“The partnership is just in its first stage,” said Merkel. “There’s still much more to come. We’ve asked the city to hang banners to help brand the area as well as to do some clean up. We hope it will lead to the redevelopment of the CALO lot next door as well.”

With the city’s move into the Green Phase of the state’s reopening process, AOW plans to reopen on Thursday, July 2. Tours of that facility, as well as the joint tours with RB, will need to be scheduled in advance so as to control group size and the number of people inside the facilities. She recommends checking the AOW web site for updates on when tours will resume. In the meantime, AOW will continue doing virtual tours online and plans to include the RB facility in them in the future.