[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="626"] Lori and Jeff Whisler love helping people have fun. That's the premise behind their downtown event venue Our Place on Main. (Photo by Jason Bryant)[/caption]
By Krystal Vivian
Not many cities have their own living room, but downtown Elkhart does — and Jeff and Lori Whisler want everyone to come party in it.
The Whislers opened Our Place on Main just in time for the 2015 Elkhart Jazz Festival. The venue served as a pop-up restaurant for Lucchese’s throughout the weekend, and soon the Whislers were hosting meetings, luncheons and all sorts of parties.
“We both have big families and we do it (host large gatherings) all the time anyway. I was always helping people plan their parties. We decided we were good at it,” Lori said. “We like helping people have fun.”
“Most of the time, I do the bar and he does the music,” Lori said.
“I back her bar up,” Jeff added. “The reason this works is that I can take orders. She’s very good at bartending. She can take about four drink orders and remember them all. I follow directions.”
When they aren’t hosting private parties and business events, Our Place on Main opens for downtown Elkhart events like ArtWalk and bike nights. They also host their own events, like sports watch parties and monthly music nights featuring local bands.
“It’s a little bit different than what you’d get at a nightclub,” Jeff said. “It’s homier. It feels like having a band in your living room. That’s what we’re going for.”
The Whislers enjoy being downtown because it’s become the center of entertainment for the city and they get to be part of it.
Both of their families go back three or four generations in Elkhart, so they’ve seen downtown cycle through businesses and periods of boom and bust. When the Whislers decided to move to Main Street in 2005, city officials were making a strong push to improve the area.
“There were a lot of empty storefronts,” Lori said, but there were newly renovated apartments available to rent, which drew people in. Because they were among the first residents to move downtown, the Whislers sometimes showed off their apartment to other potential renters on downtown Elkhart apartment tours.
Though the Great Recession hit Elkhart hard, the plans to improve downtown Elkhart moved forward. The Elco was renovated and became The Lerner Theatre. The Riverwalk was created. Main Street received an upgraded streetscape. By the time the Recession ended, Elkhart was ready to welcome businesses to a beautiful downtown area,
Now there are plenty of restaurants, anchor retail shops and plenty of events that draw people downtown. The plentiful, free parking makes it easy for visitors to be part of the downtown Elkhart community.
“The city has come a long way and w’ere proud of it,” Lori said. “We’re proud to be downtown.”
The Whislers are excited about how planned projects like the Foundry apartments and the aquatic center will draw even more people to Main Street and create an even stronger downtown Elkhart community. That means more people to meet and more parties to plan.
“I think, really, the best is yet to come,” Jeff said.
This article was originally published on GatewayMile.com.