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North

Bel-Aire Diner faces the end of the road on Route 1

The Bel-Aire Diner opened in 1953, serving home-cooked food to locals and travelers along Route 1 until 2006.

PEABODY - Once a shining star, the Bel-Aire Diner may have hit the end of the road on Route 1.

The stainless steel dining car where truckers once filled up on home cooking now languishes in a fenced-in corner of the truck stop. A faded “For Sale’’ sign is stuck to the side of the 58-year-old diner, which closed in 2006.

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“It’s kind of hard to see it falling apart,’’ said John Kallas, 53, a second-generation owner. “It really needs to be pampered . . . It still can be a nice diner.’’

He had hoped to make the Bel-Aire the centerpiece of a new $4 million retail strip being built on the 4-acre site on Route 1 north. But the 93-seat diner, with its long counter, stools, and booths, wasn’t large enough for Red’s Kitchen and Tavern, a full-service restaurant that is due to open on the site by spring, Kallas said.

“Red’s is going to be a really nice restaurant,’’ said Kallas, noting it will have a full liquor license. “When all this is done, this whole project is going to be fantastic.’’

The 20,000-square-foot retail strip will also feature a motorcycle shop and a 24-hour convenience store. At Best Gas, the longtime station at the site, a new electronic sign will display gas prices digitally. “We won’t have to go out there changing the numbers by hand in the winter,’’ Kallas said.

There will also be bays for truck repairs, showers, and a lounge for drivers to rest. About 20 to 30 trucks pull into the stop each day, but Kallas hopes that number will grow with the new facility. “We’re going to be able to offer so much more than we ever have,’’ he said.

Kallas’s father, William, opened the truck stop on Route 1 shortly after World War II. The diner arrived in 1953 from the Mountain View factory in New Jersey.

It brought the flavor of American roadside dining to Route 1, then a two-lane highway known as the Newburyport Turnpike. At one point, the Bel-Aire was open 24 hours a day, but in later years its hours were 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“The diner business was a good one, but a tough one,’’ said Kallas, who started washing dishes at Bel-Aire when he was 6 years old. “It requires very long hours.’’

When it closed, the diner was put up for sale, priced at one point at $50,000. When a buyer didn’t emerge, Kallas tried to incorporate it into the redesigned truck stop. Now it’s on the market again, with three potential buyers recently expressing interest.

The stumbling block?

Figuring out a cost-efficient way to haul the 60-by-17-foot diner off the property. The extra-wide load would require a double State Police escort on the highway.

“It’s going to cost a lot to move it,’’ Kallas said. “That’s a problem.’’

If it doesn’t hit the road by spring, the Bel-Aire could end up in a scrap heap. “I would hate to crunch it, “ Kallas said, his hands mimicking a crushing action. “It’s still a diner.’’

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe KMcCabe.
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