There are more than antique cars in Auburn.
The city of 13,000 and DeKalb County's county seat has a claim to fame for its role in the creation of the automobile age.
The town still pays homage to that history through the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum and an annual festival each Labor Day weekend – coupled with a giant auto auction of all kinds of vintage vehicles at the Auburn Auction Park just outside town. The events bring in tens of thousands of visitors.
But Auburn also has been deliberately recasting itself as a more-than-a-once-a-year destination.
Mike Carbaugh, president of Carbaugh Jewelers and the Downtown Business Association, said Auburn in recent years has gained a reputation as a specialty shopping mecca.
A few years ago, he said, downtown Auburn had a 23% vacancy rate at storefront level. “Now we hardly have any vacancies,” he said. “Because of all the things that are positive that are going on, people want to locate here, and we have an interesting, eclectic shopping experience.”
What's to like? Quaint, historic downtown architecture and a picturesque courthouse square. A smattering of boutiques, like Lynn Maree's, for women's clothing and accessories, and Little Sprouts, for children's items – places that cater to those who value leisure-time shopping.
A recent addition – a year-old brew pub, the Auburn Brewing Co., known locally as the ABC, where live music shares the limelight with craft beers on tap.
Community organizations also have worked to create events to draw people to Auburn – a periodic Girls Night Out, Discover Historic Auburn with a day of activities in May and classic car cruise-ins from 6 to 8 p.m. the third Thursday of every month from May through September.
Robin Heller, 48, of Auburn liked the downtown ambiance so much she decided to expand her business, All About You Boutique, from specialty shows to a storefront at 202 S. Jackson St.
“I think they like the personal attention,” she said of her customers. “I know what they like and can tell them what I have, or I can get in items for them.”
Customers come from around the region, she said.
“I think we have something else to offer for visitors, and even people who just drive up from Fort Wayne, instead of the usual hustle and bustle,” said Natalie DeWitt, 34, marketing chairwoman for Auburn Main Street. “We're just really relaxed.”
Population: 12,731 (2017 census estimate)
Founded: 1836; did not become a city until 1900
• The name came from “The Deserted Village,” a poem by English poet Oliver Goldsmith, which includes the line “Sweet Auburn! Loveliest village on the plain.”
• Notorious bank robber John Dillinger and accomplices raided Auburn's police station on Oct. 14, 1933. They stole a submachine gun, two steel vests, three rifles, six pistols and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
• Auburn made more than just cars during the early 20th century. The business that became the Auburn Rubber Co. made automobile tires for many cars made in Auburn.