LAPORTE | There was no place more popular for a meal and cocktail in LaPorte, perhaps, than the Western Inn during its heyday.
After 51 years, Western Inn will close its doors Saturday at one of the most noticeable locations on a curve along Ind. 2 on the city's west side.
Longtime customer Ken Layton remembers when people had to stand in line for a table or went there in droves before and after high school basketball or football games.
"It was a focal point. It's going to be truly missed,'' Layton said.
One of the owners, Larry Rose, said the emergence of more chain restaurants in places like Michigan City, Valparaiso and Mishawaka chipped away at his customer base along with generations of people now accustomed to eating at fast food restaurants.
"They go out of town to dinner instead of patronizing local, independent restaurants," Rose said.
He also cited a struggling economy, as well as a change in Indiana law that prohibits children from being inside restaurants that serve liquor if they offer smoking.
"We've been fortunate in building quite a tradition here. Unfortunately, things do come to an end," Rose said.
The property was sold to LaPorte resident, Dan Halle, who will tear down the building in October. Halle would not disclose his future plans for the site.
Rose said all of the equipment inside the restaurant will be sold during a Sept. 18 auction.
Western Inn has deep local roots being founded by Rose's father, Lawrence, and remaining in the family until the end.
Larry's late brother, Jan Rose, was an equal partner and in the '70s and '80s and was a popular former LaPorte County sheriff whose deputies regularly patronized the business.
Western Inn also was one of the more popular gathering places during special events like the annual Dyngus Day and Cruise Night, where people stood or sat outside eating and drinking while antique cars rumbled by.
"A lot of people are sad. We had quite a tradition. It would be nice to be remembered that way," Rose said.
State Representative Tom Dermody, R-La Porte, said he worked with Rose and other independent business owners locally on the smoking legislation and other regulations to reduce their impact.
He said cities need small business owners like Rose, who give so much back to their communities.,
"Larry has been an important person in our community and Western Inn has been a great establishment over many years. It's just a sad day," Dermody said.