Community is losing more than just good BBQ

Published On: Aug 08 2012 06:46:34 PM CDT   Updated On: Aug 08 2012 07:09:23 PM CDT

LA CROSSE , Wis. -- Locally owned businesses are a hallmark of the La Crosse identity.

But a La Crosse business that has been serving up barbecue and community spirit for the last six years is getting ready to close its doors.

"It's been a battle like I've never been in,” said Train Station BBQ co-owner Dan Thill.

They’re strong words from someone who takes barbecue very seriously.

For Dan and Lisa Thill, Train Station BBQ has been a labor of love.

"We just continually tried to change to make us fit to the point where we could make a living selling barbecue," said Thill.

They changed locations, changed their menu and changed their prices -- but no dice.

Friday will be Train Station BBQ's last day in business, which is bad news for loyal customers.

"It's just one of my favorite spots to go in the city. It's small and has a lot of character. And it will be sorely missed,” said customer Nathan Patros. “You know, you hate to see these mom and pop shops go down.”

But Thill said local restaurants face all kinds of challenges the big chains don't. Big businesses can offer lower prices, afford more advertising and get the best locations.

“Without a giant plan, like a franchise, sustainability in the highest rent corners is more of a gamble than what we did already," said Thill.

But David Loomis said aspiring local business owners shouldn't give up hope. He's the executive director of the Coulee Region Business Center, which helps new businesses get on their feet.

"Well, La Crosse has always been small businesses starting up or shops starting up, so it's kind of tuned into that environment. And there are all kinds of little niches,” said Loomis. “If you find that, you can be very successful.”

But right now that's little consolation for Train Station BBQ's night manager, Rosana Hernandez.

"I cried. It's just like family here," said Hernandez.

She said when you lose a locally owned business like Train Station BBQ, you're not just losing a restaurant, you're losing an asset to the community.

"They've done so much in the community. They've had such a great impact, always helping out the students at Western, all the great donations they've donated to the community -- gift cards, food,” said Hernandez. “It's not all about the money. It's about the friendship, the family, everything."

Thill said the entire business is actually up for sale. He’s hoping someone will be interested in taking over a business that already comes with the equipment, facility and recipes.

Train Station Barbecue isn't the only local restaurant closing its doors soon. The La Crosse location of the Cheese Corner will close down on Sept. 1. The owner said food and rent costs played a big role. The Viroqua Cheese Corner location will remain open.