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Rosie's Diner: Extinct Roadside Attraction

July 09, 2013

We were driving home from picking up Henry from music camp when we ran right into the tail-end of holiday-goers returning home. The freeway was a parking lot 30 miles north of Grand Rapids. So we peeled off and decided to drive surface roads around the whole region.

We didn't have a map in the car, of all things, so I went to a gas station. No maps. Went to another gas station. No maps. Went to a grocery store. No maps. ...But! A young cashier said she had a map in her car that she'd never used and that we could have it. It was a $20 Gazetteer! So...are paper maps now dinosaurs? I hope no one forgets their smartphone or its battery charge.

We headed back to the freeway again near the town of Rockford. When we were still out in the relative sticks, we encountered an astonishing sight: a huge parking lot with an open sporting goods store and off to the side several vintage diners all hooked together with weeds growing out of them. We had to stop.

Rosie's Diner looks like it was a collection of at least 3 old diners turned into separate-but-connected restaurant, ice cream shop and bar. All abandoned, shuttered and overgrown.

We peeked inside and saw classic, attractive interiors.

Out back was a huge and elaborate Mini Golf course with supersized diner food sculptures.

We found a flier and postcard in the grass that were dated 2011. It's amazing how fast a place can decay. The main roadsign was gone -- probably was a deluxe neon sign. Other nice neon signs remained.

We noticed how the high-quality diners had amateurish signage painted on their windows. And how the deluxe putt-putt course also had lame and sloppy painted signs. And how there were cornball printouts taped into windows -- not a very tempting way to get people to order food.

According to the PR material we found that the place tried to be a major draw for the Klassic Kar krowd. They charged fees to have photos of cars taken in front. Hmmm...

It looked like a huge amount of work was done to link the diners together and create work-spaces behind them. A lot of ambition and expense.

Ah, googling reveals that the central diner was the one used to film the famous Rosie's paper towel commercials in the 1960's.

But it all died. The amateurishness of the signage and "window treatments" hinted at the uphill battle they faced.

Yelp reviews say the food was good.

But the closing wasn't pretty: rockford.wzzm13.com/news/news/62728-employeees-not-paid-after-rosies-diner-closes

Looks like you coulda bought the 4.5 acres for $25K as of last year. They had an auction after that. Someone bought the diners (and land, too, I think) for $125k, after the previous owners had paid $450k a few years earlier. This report link includes the original Rosie video: www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2012/04/online_bidder_gets_deal_on_ico.html

Here's another nifty tale about the prospects for diners and about the guy who originally brought the diners to Michigan, a "larger than life" artist named Jerry Berta. Apparently diners were big in the 1990's. I never knew! He then sold to the folks who went bellyup. Putting $450k into a remote, quirky restaurant in 2006 wasn't good luck for timing. Heck, credit might've dissolved after 2008 even if bills were paid. They hung on 'til 2011, anyway. ... www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2012/05/new_owner_of_rosies_diner_shou.html.

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