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During these last days of LJ’s Lounge, a popular Fort Myers Shores bar that bills itself as the “last cracker honkytonk in Lee County,” patrons, bartenders and owners have been soaking in the scene, reminiscing about 33 years of history as they prepare for the final last call for alcohol. 

LJ’s Lounge, 16500 Babcock Ranch Road (formerly known as State Road 31), is scheduled to be bought Feb. 5 by Neal Communities, LJ’s owner Linda Flaitz said. Property records show the Sarasota-based housing developer already paid a combined $3.7 million for an adjacent 86.75 acres. It is planning to build at least 561 homes or townhomes south of the Wilson Pigott Bridge over the Caloosahatchee River, county records show, with the projects called 31 Oaks and Caloosa Palms. 

LJ’s last full day will be Feb. 4 with 1:30 a.m. Monday serving as the last call, Flaitz said. 

Flaitz did not disclose the sale price for her 1-acre lot and building, which will be razed, she said, to make way for the planned widening of Babcock Ranch Road and an entrance into the new subdivision. 

“I’m 81 years old,” Flaitz said. “I need to get out of there. I had two other bars and two restaurants prior to this. Prior to that, I was with State Farm insurance as an adjustor. I decided to give up the office life because I love people. I’m going to miss all my friends and customers. It’s going to be tough.” 

Tears have been flowing this week at the bar, from the dozens of men and women who congregate there. Inside, there’s just one beer on draft—Bud Light—and mostly domestic bottled beer and liquor and two pool tables. 

In addition to selling the property, Flaitz said she will do separate sales of the liquor stock and the liquor license, the latter of which would carry a price tag north of $600,000, she said. 

When an area bar offered to buy the remaining liquor at LJ’s at a 40% discount, Flaitz responded she would rather drink it herself. 

That’s the kind of humor that seemed to be permeating the bar in its last days. But there also was a lot of sadness over the changing state of Alva, a rural community that’s changing into an urban one, potentially doubling from its current population of about 3,000 over the next few years because of all the planned development. 

Neal Communities also lobbied for and recently received a sewer amendment from the county for at least 788 homes it plans to build on the north side of the river, county records show. It owns another property, Owl Creek, that’s zoned for 440 units, and in November 2021 it purchased the lot just east of LJ’s for $500,000, property records show. 

Dawn and David Jamie Porter met at LJ’s Feb. 17, 2010, and they have been together since. They expressed sadness over the impending loss of the bar. 

“It’s just devastating,” Dawn Porter said. 

“It will be really sad,” Brooke Thompson said. “It’s hard to see it go. But we’ll strive after. We’ll make new days and better days.” 

“The first night it opened,” Kenny Nichols said, “I sat right there listening to Charley Pride.” 

The bar’s patrons knew the day was coming, Ricky Weeks said. 

“I just didn’t think it would happen this fast,” Weeks said. “Everything’s happening so fast.” 

Weeks said he was on the fence about Alva’s future. He said he’s friends with Lee County Commissioner Mike Greenwell, who is planning a nearby shopping center that will serve the new population growth. 

Even Flaitz and her partner Marc Murray lamented having to sell the property.  

“I hate it,” Flaitz said. “I hate it that we’re selling to a community that’s going to build a bunch of houses. They need our piece of property to make an entrance and an exit. They’re going to build about 200 homes. It’s getting too crowded, too crazy out here. 

“LJ’s is actually the last cracker honkytonk. That’s exactly what it is.” 

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