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COVID-19 deepens Loyal Legion Club’s financial woes

As if recent changes in local culture that have all but eliminated large wedding dances weren’t enough, the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic shutdown has dealt another difficult blow to the Loyal American Legion Club. Without an upturn in business in the near future, the once-popular Legion Hall that played host to as many as 60 wedding parties every year could be in serious trouble.

New Legion Club managers Dave and Dawn Jacobson have been putting a fresh face on the Legion Hall’s interior, but it’s not doing much good yet as few people are entering the building to see it. Many of the few events that had been booked for 2020 have been forced to cancel due to the state’s “Safer at Home” order and general response to the pandemic, and with even the iconic Loyal Corn Fest in late August questionable, the Jacobsons don’t know from where the revenue will come to keep the doors open. They have asked the Loyal City Council to waive its ordinance against exotic dancers to allow a 1-time male dancer night for a “Widow’s Weekend” during deer hunting season, but more business is needed to revive a once-prosperous event center.

Dave Jacobson said Loyal’s Legion Hall is the largest in Wisconsin, with its main area seating up to 350 people for a wedding or banquet event. And it was very busy through the 1980s and 1990s, with couples seeking to be married having to schedule the venue at least a year in advance and even planning their wedding date around its availability.

Those days are long gone, though. Only two weddings have been booked for all of 2020, and one of them was cancelled due to COVID-19. The Legion Club also lost bookings for the Loyal Lions Gun Show, a Wildlife Federation banquet, and other spring/summer events. With bills still coming, finances are tight. Dawn Jacobson said a Legion Club checking account that held more than $140,000 in 2006 is down right now to about $1,000.

“We’ve had lot of bills come in, lots and lots of bills,” Jacobson said at a May 19 City Council meeting where she asked for the exotic dancer waiver.

The Legion was built in 1974 and quickly became a hub of activity in the community. It’s large hardwood dance floor was often filled for wedding dances, and the kitchen hummed with activity preparing banquet meals.

“When they had a lot of weddings, it made a lot of money,” Dave Jacobson said.

The Legion Club years ago was created as a separate entity from the Loyal American Legion Post #175, for tax and other financial purposes. The Club is now responsible for the building’s normal bills such as electricity, heat, etc., but it gets the revenue from many activities it books. For the Legion Post’s monthly steak feeds, for example, the Post gets the revenue from the meal, but the Club gets the revenue from bar sales.

With wedding bookings dropping precipitously as couples seek alternative venues, the Club has watched its calendar stay largely empty. The coronavirus wiped out the little business upon which it was counting.

“All those big banquets, that would be what the Club makes money on,” said Dawn. “And they all cancelled... It would be way better if all those things hadn’t cancelled. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it would be better.”

It may get worse. The Legion bar usually brings in revenue during Corn Fest, but organizers have yet to say for sure if that show will go on as planned from Aug. 27-30.

“Oh, gosh, we hope we have that,” Dawn said.

The Jacobsons are trying to be creative in thinking of new revenue sources. That’s why they asked the city for permission for the male dancer night. The Council will discuss the request at its next meeting on June 16.

“We want to keep our Legion running,” Dawn said at the May Council meeting. “We want to think of things we can do to keep our Legion running ... I’ve been trying to think of other things. I can’t think of anything else ... If they (the city) can come up with something better, we’ll do it.”

Dawn said she understands that a male dancer night might be controversial, but she expects it would bring in a good influx of cash for the Club. Even some of the Post members aren’t behind the idea, though.

“Half of our Board wants it and the other half doesn’t,” she said. “The reason we’re having it it is to keep the doors open.”

The Jacobsons have been doing what they can in the building to keep it attractive to customers. They’ve painted walls, washed large curtains, waxed the floor and cleaned extensively. All ceiling tiles were replaced last year through an anonymous donation.

Now Dawn said they need to get the community back into the building, and to use it again as they once did. More bookings, more events, are the answer, but will they come?

“The Post has given us money to pay bills already,” Dawn said. “How long can they keep doing that?”