Experience Fall in Downtown Auburn

Across the Midwest, quaint downtowns full of friendly people are easy to find. But just 30 minutes north of Fort Wayne lies a particularly special downtown in Auburn, Ind. An architecturally stunning courthouse is the central focal point of a town square that boasts unique shops, eateries and local businesses. Visitors from Fort Wayne, Angola, Freemont, Kendallville, Ligonier, LaGrange, and even cities in Michigan and Ohio flock to Auburn regularly to amble away afternoons or full weekends through the square.

“The businesses located here are very quaint, I suppose not unlike most downtowns,” says Mike Littlejohn, president of the Downtown Auburn Business Association for more than 20 years. “However, we have great eateries, boutiques – many unique shops that people like to come visit, especially on the weekends.”

Oftentimes, Littlejohn welcomes people who are part of a motorcycle or specialty car group.

“We seem to be the destination for groups like that, and then they tend to come back on their own trips later on,” he says. “We rarely have people who come here on day trips and never come back.”

Littlejohn knows this because he himself is a friendly storeowner in downtown Auburn. At Carbaugh Jewelers, 108 E. Seventh St., Littlejohn frequently interacts with locals and non-locals alike. He makes it a habit to point-blank ask customers where they’re from and why they enjoy Auburn.

During the summer, Littlejohn likes to travel in a vintage car and check out various downtowns. He doesn’t try to compare other places to Auburn, though. Instead, he likes to experience each city’s own uniqueness.

Auburn’s uniqueness is certainly its eateries, he adds.

“We have people telling us that we’re unique because we have an inviting and inclusive community, but I think most downtowns will say that,” Littlejohn says. “What we really hear in addition to that is that people come here for two things. They come here for food, and they come here for beverages.

“I’m also on the board of Auburn Main Street, so I can tell you there’s a lot of research that goes into the thought process of getting people to visit your downtown. So, everybody says their downtown is unique and everybody says their downtown has great shopping and so forth. But the truth of the matter is, over and above that, do you have food and beverage to offer? Because that’s what people do the most of. They eat, and they drink.”

Some top recommendations include Auburn City Steakhouse, a higher-end option for fine dining, Mad Anthony’s Auburn Tap Room, featuring pub favorites and brews, 9th Street Brew, a local corner coffee house that’s a hub of activity in the morning time, Cricket’s 7th Street Bar and Grille, famous for its “Cricket Burger,” Mimi’s Retreat, featuring pub favorites and brews, Four Crowns, a popular bar, The Brown House, specializing in made-to-order food and custard, The Deli at Sixth and Main, a popular lunch spot, and of course, Auburn Brewing Company, located just two blocks off the main drag going through downtown. There’s also Byler Lane Winery right outside of downtown.

“Those are the places that constantly draw people,” Littlejohn says. “If you were here on any given Friday or Saturday, you would see people gathered at these places. Of course, there are local people who go on a regular basis, including myself. But if you look at the license plates, most people are visitors.”

Having an array of superb eateries subsequently draws people to stroll into the other local shops along the square, Littlejohn adds. People also take part in the special fall activities happening in the Auburn area.

Just outside of Auburn but still in DeKalb County, visitors can find Amazing Fall Fun – a family farm boasting Indiana’s largest corn maze, a pumpkin patch, delicious fall treats and more.

Additionally, the Auburn City Parks Department puts on a spectacular Halloween event every year at Eckhart Park, just south of the downtown area, Littlejohn says.

“They go above and beyond making that a great experience for kids,” he says. “They have all kinds of activities for kids to do, and they decorate the park really cool for Halloween each year.”

The Downtown Auburn Business Association is once again featuring trick-or-treating, which this year falls on Tuesday, Oct. 31 from 4-6 p.m., where businesses give out candy to kids.

“We average at least 1,000 to 1,200 kids every year just at our businesses for that 2-hour period,” Littlejohn says. “And then, from 6-8 p.m., there’s trick-or-treating town wide. They can go four hours total throughout the community.”

Overall, Littlejohn’s love of Auburn knows no bounds.

“Oh my God, it’s the best,” he says. “It’s amazing to see how many non-local people come here from the surrounding area. Carbaugh Jewelers is a 122-year-old store – it’s the oldest continuously run business in the downtown business district, and I’m only the fourth owner in all that time. If you were to walk into the store, it would be like walking into a museum. We have areas designated with history and there’s information you can read while you’re shopping. I’m merely just a caretaker for this period of time, and because of all the uniqueness this downtown has, and the fact that people love to come to Auburn, there’s no better place to be in terms of having a business.”