Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Garth Meyer
Whitman County Gazette 

Members to decide fate of Colfax Eagles

 

April 29, 2021



COLFAX — The Colfax chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles may be closing their bar on Main Street.

“There is a chance we could be closing our charter,” said Liliana Fry, club secretary, and manager.

A meeting is on Sunday at 4 p.m. for all members to determine its future. The officers could decide to sell the building.

“Whatever option we choose, we will commence that process,” Fry said.

The club has been closed since April 17.

What led to this crossroads had been coming for some time.

“COVID kind of took its toll on us,” said Fry. “But, it’s been a problem for a long time. (In) the last 10 years, three or four (Eagles) clubs have closed (around the state).”

The Colfax chapter, No. 2317, began in 1938, which was a re-starting of the original 1910 Eagles club in town. Today the AERIE has about 100 members, with 30-35 in the women-only auxiliary.

In 2020-21, the local Eagles saw a drop in revenue from lack of its longtime food booth at the canceled Palouse Empire Fair and decreased liquor sales at the partially-shuttered club, combined with what Fry described as unsuccessful grant relief efforts.

“We got zero,” she said.

Not all are on a downward trend. Total membership is up.

“We have more members than five years ago but less business,” Fry said. “Clubs are a community in and of themselves, kind of like a church would be. (But) when you can’t spend time with your community, it draws you away from it. Once you get used to not being involved, you fill that time with other things. Every time we opened after COVID there were less and less people.”

She became a member in 2016 after moving back to town as a young single mother. She knew the manager at the time, Leslie Rounds, and soon became a bartender.

“It helped me tremendously to build a community, to meet people, and friends,” Fry said.

She became the manager in 2019.

“No experience, no nothing, never held a job but they decided to make her the manager of the Eagles club,” said Lauren Jensen, a member since 1981.

Eagles clubs function as open to the public, though non-members need to be accompanied by a member.

“The board of trustees is in charge of managing and they don’t manage,” said Jensen. “You got to try to do something to make money – to entice people to come in. Reducing of hours, not opening when you say you are, that doesn’t do anything for business.” …To operate the Colfax club, estimated costs per month include $3,500 in property taxes, water and electric, supplies, insurance, manager and secretary wages, accountants, and more.

“I don’t think the business plan is up to date as it should be,” said Fry.

The old business model might end in the building’s sale.

“We’ve had several people interested in buying (the building). We don’t think it will be there very long if we decide to sell,” Fry said.

The Colfax Eagles Club had as many as 600 members in the 1990s but has seen harder times since.

“For a long time, there was a stigma about it … I wasn’t there,” Fry said. “Times aren’t great for any club. The younger people don’t have enough time and the older people have served their time. People don’t need a physical community, because of online communities.”

The changes in times have led to less revenue. The cost to be an Eagles member is $25 per year.

“Just selling liquor is not enough,” Fry said.

The Eagles’ main officers include Galen McGraw, Richard Rounds, Daniel Hardy, Chuck Craigen, and Ciara Becker, Bryson Fry, and Blaise Taylor.

“What’ll happen depends on who shows up and who gives a sh--,” said Jensen, who moved to Colfax in 1975. He worked as an electrician at Lower Granite Dam for 35 years before he retired.

”It will depend on the mood of the crowd. It has to be a vote of the membership,” he added.

He joined the Eagles at a high point.

“I just needed a place to go dancing and drinking with my wife,” he said.

It was a time the Eagles would have a dance with a live band on Saturday night and the Colfax Elks Club would have one the next Saturday, and so on through the year.

Eagles club family dinners were held on Fridays. Kids could stay until 9 p.m. Bingo was the feature on other nights.

“Once the Indian casinos opened up … they kind of wiped out the bingo games,” Jensen said.

The Eagles club building was originally a 1930s auto shop then an American Legion hall, which was later leased to the Eagles in the late 1970s before the Eagles bought it a few years later.

“I guess I just didn’t want to believe it was going to go down this far,” Jensen said.

Up to 2021, the club was open seven days per week and then it changed to Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

“The membership card (prompt) at the door hasn’t worked for about 10 years,” Jensen said.

Rick McBee, an Eagles grand liaison from the Washington State Eagles, will be there Sunday.

If the local chapter decides to continue, the state will not be involved. If the Colfax Eagles choose another option, such as to maintain the charter but sell the building, or both, McBee will step in to help facilitate that.

“I wouldn’t bet either way what’s going to happen,” said Fry.

Author Bio

Garth Meyer, Reporter

Garth Meyer is a reporter and sports writer at the Whitman County Gazette.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 5092356184
https://www.facebook.com/WhitmanCountyGazette
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