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Dairy Queen reign ends with restaurant closure

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By John Whitlock

The signs outside invited friends and customers to come inside for one final cup of coffee at the Dairy Queen that has been a part of the lives of countless Owen County residents for years.

Inside, employees who had made such an impact on the lives of owners Doug and Letitia Lubbe said their goodbyes amid handshakes and hugs.

Tuesday, the doors closed on the local landmark.

Doug Lubbe said he had worked tirelessly to try and make the business work but increased competition, a hike in the minimum wage, a tough economy, interest rates and a problem with state sales taxes all played a part in the decision to close.

“About a month ago, (closing) became a real possibility,” Lubbe said. “We made a deal with the state (about sales tax) and we had to break it. We didn’t have a whole lot of choices.”

As the recession deepened, “credit dried up,” Lubbe said. “We had to pay all our vendors for groceries in cash. That can be difficult to do. Every business needs operating capital. It just became harder and harder to make it work.”

Although he’s now looking for a new opportunity, Lubbe said he isn’t angry or bitter about the closure.

“Everything that happens is progress in one way or another,” Lubbe said. “It’s a tough time for almost every small business.”

Lubbe started the business, a former Druthers location, in May 1986.

He said the community and the employees were always an important part of the business.

“Many of  our employees are under 18,” Lubbe said. “We used to have all their pictures up on the wall. They became part of the family and I will miss that – being part of people’s lives and them being part of mine.”

Although the Lubbes will be leaving the business, the future of the building is less clear.

Lubbe has been talking to other business owners across the region in hopes of selling the franchise.

A deal that would have likely kept the location open fell through earlier this week.

“I would walk away with nothing but sometimes that is better,” Lubbe said.

But Lubbe isn’t done and has a meeting planned next week with an interested investor.