Like a scene out of the Pixar movie “Cars,” the Penn-Irwin Motel has been a haven for weary travelers on the Lincoln Highway for 73 years.
It thrived as U.S. Route 30 and the westernmost terminus of the Pennsylvania Turnpike brought motorists from all over the country. Then the turnpike added new interchanges — in New Stanton and in Monroeville — and business started to change.
“People would bypass this (Irwin exit) to get to those two,” owner Gary Salada said.
Salada, 71, and his wife, Deb, 68, hung on for as long as they could, but now they’re ready to retire. The historic North Huntingdon motel will close Saturday after 34 years of ownership by the Saladas and 73 years in business.
The Saladas said they have sold the property to Colony Holding Co. LLC, North Huntingdon, which has plans to develop it. Closing on the sale is scheduled for April 1, so they have a week to close up shop.
“I cried when they said it was sold,” said longtime housekeeper Marty Hutchinson, 73, of Sutersville. “It’s been a trip.”
The Saladas were business partners before they were husband and wife.
They were dating in 1985 when they began looking for business opportunities. Leafing through Entrepreneur magazine, they found a listing for a motel for sale near Irwin. The former teacher and beautician became the Penn-Irwin Motel’s third owner.
The young couple knew they had a reputation to uphold, since the motel had been a mainstay of the Lincoln Highway hospitality industry since 1946. Although visible from the highway, the Penn-Irwin was set back into a wooded area and recognizable from its familiar neon sign.
“A Quiet Night’s Sleep Assured” was the sign’s boast.
“That’s the charm of the place because we’re up off the highway. You still get that country feel,” Deb Salada said. “Most people, they enjoy the charm.”
The motel originally comprised five buildings, each with two rooms. The Saladas renovated some of the rooms over the years, while retaining the warm feel of the knotty pine walls and the wood furniture.
“Every room is different. They’re not cookie cutter,” Deb Salada said, noting that her husband is a “scavenger” who likes to find old furniture and add it to the rooms.
The couple added a heart-shaped Jacuzzi to one of the rooms and turned it into a honeymoon suite, advertising the motel as a destination for lovers with a “Pocono atmosphere.”
“We’ve had people who have gotten engaged here,” she said.
The motel has been popular with workers in the oil and gas industry, as well as travelers from Canada, South America and Europe, the couple said. Canadians on the way to Florida or Michiganders on the way to the Outer Banks have been regular patrons over the years.
When the Summer Olympics came to Barcelona, Spain, in 1992, some Spaniards escaped by renting out their homes and staying at the Penn-Irwin, the couple said.
“Europeans like smaller places, I guess,” Deb Salada said.
Although the motel has had many repeat customers over the years, locally, it’s been a well-kept secret, she said.
The Saladas plan to retire in North Huntingdon.