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Doors to close on Youngstown tradition



Published: Thu, November 15, 2012 @ 12:01 a.m.

photo

The Youngstown Club in the Commerce Building downtown is closing its doors. In the club’s Grill Room during its better days are, from left, Bob Doyle, club membership director; Richard Keyse , club president; and David Ventresco , general manager.

By JAMISON COCKLIN

jcocklin@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The Youngstown Club, an iconic meeting place that for more than 100 years played high-class host to the city’s leaders and business moguls, will close Jan. 1.

After years of dwindling membership and waning revenues, the club will have its last New Year’s Eve celebration Dec. 31, and close the doors on a tradition that first began in 1902 when a group of businessmen met in private at the Dollar Savings and Trust Co. on the corner of Commerce Street and Wick Avenue.

In its 110 years of operation, the club played host to secretaries of state, mayors and steel barons, and counted among its presidents members of some of Youngstown’s gilded families like the Tods and Beeghlys.

“The economy was our biggest challenge,” said Katie Dodd, the club’s general manager. “The younger generation just doesn’t seem to appreciate the idea behind a private club, and our membership has declined over the years. We’ve struggled to make ends meet.”

At its peak in the 1970s and 1980s, the club boasted a membership of 1,100, but since then has only declined, dropping to about 250 this year.

When the club was first formed, its founders were pulling a page from 18th-century London, where the upper class first set out to provide their own with an exclusive gathering place.

In its early days, this meant invitation-only membership at the Youngstown Club, where, until 1989, even women —including members’ wives —were barred from the main dining room.

The color of one’s skin and religious affiliations were just as much a part of the social fabric, too, but in time the club evolved to tolerate changing social circumstances.

Eventually, the overhead became too much and it was forced to open its doors to the public for dining on special occasions and in recent years the club has turned to booking wedding parties as its primary revenue source.

“At one point, it was an aristocratic gentleman’s club, but it did everything it could to evolve with the times, opening up to women and other groups,” said Scott Lewis, a former board member whose father, Daniel Lewis, became the first Jewish member after receiving an invitation. “But unlike a country club, we couldn’t offer tennis, swim or golf, and a great meal just wasn’t enough to carry it on.”

Over the years, the city’s history seemed to unfold with the club itself.

As the downtown grew, the club called four different buildings home with its beginnings in the Dollar Savings and Trust Co. building. It moved from the Bank One building to the Union Savings and Trust Building, now the location of Chase Bank, to its current spot on the fourth and fifth floors of the Commerce Building, which was once Haber’s Furniture Store, just east of Central Square.

In the 1920s, the club was raided for suspicions over gambling, and in 1963 it earned national attention after it was burned to the ground in a hit ordered by mob leaders who sought revenge against business leaders there who were adamantly opposed to organized crime in the city.

Wednesday’s announcement was met with sadness throughout the community.

“Just the size of it; the overhead is very expensive,” said Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone. “I hate to hear it’s closing because it’s been there for as long as I can remember. It has a beautiful wood bar. It’s been around for a long time.”

Jeffrey Kurz, a Youngstown lawyer and young property developer, agreed. “I had my rehearsal dinner there and am very saddened to hear of its closure. It is certainly one of the most beautiful historic private clubs in Youngstown.

Lewis, the former board member, shared fond memories.

“I am a Youngstown Club brat. I can remember, when it was in the Union Savings and Trust building, there used to be a treasure chest full of toys,” he recalled. “My sister and I always wanted to go for dinner on Sundays because we knew that afterward we’d get to pick out a toy.”

As she sat in the club’s cherry-paneled main dining room, named after the city’s founder John Young, Dodd said the club might have closed 15 years ago without the generosity of Richard Mills, who owns the building occupied by the Youngstown Club.

Mills, who for years has discounted rent for the club, declined to comment Wednesday.

Dodd said about 20 employees will lose their jobs, some of whom have worked there for decades. Club members will be informed with a letter and parties booked through next year will see their deposits returned in the coming weeks.

In the back office, the phones continued to ring on Wednesday, as members frantically tried to verify the club’s closure and the media clamored after the developing story.

But it was business as usual in the dining room, where employees worked to pick up after the lunch service.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” Dodd said when she was asked what’s next for her. “I’ve been here for seven years now and I’ve just fallen in love with the place. There’s so much history here.”


Comments

1arod(259 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

I thought Youngstown was on it's way back. This is really sad, I hope some of the youth step up and make something happen.

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2euclidadult(24 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

I thought the Youngstown Club was on its way out when it moved to the Commerce Building. Sad, but a sign of the times. There is no money here anymore.

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3chuck_carney(499 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

Well, as the brass of the Youngstown Business Incubator like to say "Right here in downtown, Youngstown."

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4Jive_Turkey(32 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

As part of the "Youth", I have to admit I knew of this club, but never had an opportunity to see the facility, meet the members, or learn more about it. It's a shame they are going through financial turmoil, perhaps if they reached out to non-members such as myself, who are socially active in the community, etc, they wouldn't have such an issue with recruiting members and generating revenue.

I belong to several other clubs and traditionally a member has to sponsor a non-member in order for them to be considered for membership. Maybe that's the problem: older members with limited networks.

If the YC replicated what fraternities do such as hosting mixers and having social events, I'm sure they would generate the interest needed to continue this century long tradition.

Too bad they called it quits. I would have loved an opportunity to get involved.

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5daysleeper47(59 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

This was clearly an issue of the Youngstown Club not properly marketing itself to new audiences and simply relying on their name to drive business. Times are changing; that's not enough any more. And this business failing is absolutely unrelated to anything else going on downtown, contrary to 'chuck_carney's point of view. Any business that doesn't properly market itself, regardless of what's going on around it, will ultimately fail.

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6georgejeanie(766 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

They need a bailout, cmon, Obama, whats good for the goose is good for the gander.

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7user(6 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

A Club with a history of no women, no jews, no catholics, no non-whites... Good riddence........

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8Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

DITO user@
I gave up my membership years ago
Just a bunch of tight &ss's
A lot of 1% want to be

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9gdog4766(1403 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

User, dead on. When I read this,story it shocked me the vindy would even run it. Lets see, we are supposed to feel bad for a racist, sexist establishment that's shuttering its doors. It didn't even allow women to dine with the men till 1989. The only reason they quit being a kluxer, ring knocker club was money got tight. Good riddance.

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10anothermike(203 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

Not to play the devils advocate, but until recently, the jewish communities (at least in the Valley) were pretty "clanish" also. In any event, private clubs are going the way of the peppermint twist. Twenty seven big TV screens, draught beer , burgers and blue jeans are what's happening today...

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11observant1(74 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

I agree with daysleeper47 .

Additionally, I think that the following info is erroneous; "in 1963 it earned national attention after it was burned to the ground".
In 1963, I believe that the YC was still located in an upper floor of one of the
bank buildings mentioned in the article.
None of them burned to ground.

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12IslandMike(746 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

@geogejeanie,

Who started the bailouts and why?
Say hello to Jeanie for me!

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13ytowngirl1(2 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

NoBS is right, that's the history of the club because that's the history of this country. Also, observant1 - the club was in fact burned to the ground. I'm not sure what year or which building, but they have framed copies of the news articles posted in the club.

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14walter_sobchak(1849 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

It is very simple. This club was established for the owners, managers and directors of the Youngstown steel producers, manufacturers, banks, law firms, etc. that had headquarters in downtown. How many of those companies, let alone their HQ's, even exist in downtown? Add to that, back in their heyday, the fees for membership were a tax deduction in full as a business expense. Many of these types of organizations are doomed unless they are also coupled with swimming, golf and tennis, where the members and families can use them. Even those types of places are having membership issues. It has little to do with downtown or race or religion.

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15ytowngirl1(2 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

Absolutely right.

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16willinnyny(76 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

It’s sad to see some traditions go . . . but not all.
Yes, let’s shed a tear for a club closing that excluded women, Catholics, Jews, African-Americans and more.
How very sad it must be for social conservatives and bigots to see the Youngstown Club go.
Boohoo.
But wait, there is still hope for those who enjoy excluding and discriminating against others!
We still live in the Great State of Ohio, which excludes Gay People from civil marriage and other legal rights.
So, all is not lost yet.
Right, Youngstown Clubers?

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17katyshack722(5 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

I will not try to defend the club's history which is also our Country's history. What I will say is I am not a member of the club but I have worked there and the members are very nice down to earth people. I understand if you feel slighted if you could not afford to enjoy the club. the membership was open to everyone in all walks of life. Memberships start at $30 a month, most people can afford that. They did not try to exclude people they tried to get people interested, they relaxed the dress code to attract younger members. as far as marketing goes I saw info on the club....

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18Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

toy cannon @
You are Wrong , When I was in the club, Must likely I could have bought and sold most of the phonies that where there at that time. As I said just a bunch of want to be 1%ers .

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19Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

toy cannon @
You are Wrong , When I was in the club, Must likely I could have bought and sold most of the phonies that where there at that time. As I said just a bunch of want to be 1%ers .

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20Palumbo1212(2 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

As the former Executive Chef of The Youngstown Club it greatly saddens me to watch these events play out. The Club does not need to close, but rather take a new direction. While I haven't worked since April due to being injured in a car accident, I STILL BELIEVE IN THE YOUNGSTOWN CLUB. Any persons interested in preserving and potentially revitalizing this remarkable part of Youngstowns history please contact me @ Palumbo987@gmail.com

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21Palumbo1212(2 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

Also, many great pics on this twitter account. Twitter.com/youngstownclub

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22maxi(71 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

I can appreciate the history of the Youngstown Club (but only to a degree), but it's a new day, a new downtown with a new persona.
So the beautiful historic building is no longer a private club. Hopefully a creative entrepreneur will have a vision for the facility and it will thrive.
Private clubs are so yesterday. I'm all about the people, ALL the people (except criminals of course). I thrive on the different cultures, foods, etc. The very thought of one ounce of exclusion to people of different cultures/religions/races/genders is so disturbing to me, and the Youngstown Club and other private clubs did this.
I cringed reading the article about the exclusion of women until 1989! That wasn't that long ago!
Say what you want about missing the YC. I say move on. We can do better.
And by the way, last Christmas we had our office party there. The service was poor, the food was blah, and the prices were inflated. We knew we would not return this year.The news of the YC closing does not surprise me.

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23katyshack722(5 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

this want katie who said this by the way its the guys jib u stole

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24Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

Brown@ I have a lot of money, more then most . So do not give me the BS about the money people . Most are &ss holes . The club (my Club) should shut down )

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25katyshack722(5 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

disregard last comment wasnt suppose to post here

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26Klink(36 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

No problem with the Youngstown club being what is. Have the money to join but never would join. No reason to hate those that want to be in that type of setting. To each their own.

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27GeorgeSands(16 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

Just as the Powers family stepped up to save Powers Auditorium, the Youngstown Club needs someone or a group of wealthy folks to step up and save it.

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28foodforthought(11 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

GFS (GORDON FOOD SERVICE) has a cheese called TAVERN CHEESE just like youngstown club

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29G_Roxy1122(1 comment)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

Katyshack722 you worked at The Youngstown Club? What does "this want katie who said this by the way its the guys jib you stole" mean?? It sounds like you're a 4 year old trying to write his/her first sentence or have fried your brain to a crisp using drugs/alcohol. With spelling and grammar like that I hope you washed dishes at The Youngstown Club and never made any important decisions. If you did, then nobody needs to look any further as to why that place failed

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30jeepers(127 comments)posted 1 year, 8 months ago

My grandfather was a business man from 1946-1986. He belonged to take out of town manufacturing reps to a great place for lunch/dinner. He was close by and at the time it was very convenient. We also had a rehearsal dinner there. I personally was there only a few times, and young in those days. Food was great. And that cheese was memorable. The night it burned, my parents were coming out of the Colonial House restaraunt in the uptown, and they could see the flames on the top floor of whatever bldg. it was in at the time. Sorry to hear it is closing, but I am shocked it held on this long. It was for me the kind of place to go to a few times a year for a special family get-together. I will miss it as I miss much of my history that no longer exists in Youngstown.

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