PITTSTON TWP. — With only a handful of members in the Italian Citizens Enjoyment Club (ICEC) last year, the club was in danger of shutting down.
The ICEC, which was established in 1931, saw a huge decrease in membership and was losing money. Last October, club treasurer Paul Menichelli told members the club only had enough finances to last six months.
But he and other members, including president Steve Pugliese, vice president Charlie Consagra, and board of trustees member Jody Brogna, refused to let the place close.
“It was falling on hard times,” Consagra said. “It wasn’t making much money, membership was down… so myself, Steve, Jody and Paul and other full members got together and made the decision that we didn’t want to sell the club. We wanted to keep the club alive because it’s lasted this long and we said we’re going to make a push to make this club better. Make it better, renovate it and advertise that we’re back, open and operating.”
The ICEC was founded in 1931 and its building, which sits at 126 Oak St., was built in 1941. Club members convened at a bar once located at the corner of Lewis and Oak streets prior to its construction.
Thanks to various renovations, the club is thriving again and has seen a major increase in membership — it went from 40 to 575 social members since this January.
Pugliese said the club averaged almost 100 new social members a month.
“It started out with friends of ours and it just snowballed,” he said. “We had parties here, like, ‘Come hang out at the club,’ we made a Facebook page and then, boom, 70 people were here. The bartender was going crazy because this kind of place didn’t seat 70 people.”
Annual dues are $10 for social members and $25 for full members.
To become a social member of the ICEC, members can be of any descent and are only required to be sponsored by a full member of the club.
To be a full member of the ICEC, members must have an Italian last name, be of Italian descent from their father’s side and must be sponsored by a full member.
Once a social member is part of the organization for one year, he or she can become a full member.
After a full member has been with the club for 10 years, they get a $600 death benefit for their family.
All 45 full members own a portion of the club and it is operated by a board of trustees.
Pugliese said the average age of the full members is 60, but new social members are ranging from anywhere in the 30s and 40s.
“We need youth to take over,” he said. “Right now, we have less than five (full members) under the age of 50.”
The club’s newly reeopened kitchen has had the biggest impact on membership.
According to Menichelli, the kitchen was open throughout the 1950s when it first opened, but then was only available to club members from the late 1950s until this year, due to public demand.
“A lot of people that were here and hung around would call somewhere else to get food,” said Menichelli. “So, we said why not have it here? We have the food here and the people can enjoy themselves and come in.”
Renovations in the kitchen include rewiring the machines for more power, new gas pipes, a new sandwich station, new fryers, new kitchen equipment and prep tools.
Foods available include burgers, hot dogs, wings, pizza, cheesesteaks, onion rings, mozzarella sticks and more.
Social members Kevin McGarry and Sam Morganti are the main cooks, and monies from the food sales go right back into the kitchen.
The kitchen opened on Aug. 4, and Pugliese said the response was overwhelming.
“The club had a really good night and we had a lot of people,” he said. “It was meant to be a soft opening in which we wanted to bring in about 20 people, but people started calling other people and we ended up having over 40.”
“I think we told only 12 people originally,” added Consagra.
Other additions include 10 televisions, six beers on draft, and a wider selection of liquor and bottled beer.
Tables and chairs were replaced with newer furniture, a touch screen music player was installed as well as a new air conditioner.
All in all, renovations so far have cost the club $30,000 and more work will be done to replace floor and ceiling tiles, install carpeting and spruce up the outside of the building.
Monies used for renovations came from membership fees, bar sales, and monetary donations. Consagara said the ICEC is a non-profit organization, so all money earned goes back into the club.
The ICEC is open from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 3 a.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. Sundays. The kitchen is open from 6 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Wednesday through Friday and from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Consagra said extended hours for the kitchen will come into play within the next month when football season starts.
Menichelli, who’s been an ICEC member for 49 years, and Brogna, who’s been a member for 30 years, said they’ve seen many highs and many lows for the club.
Brogna said they witnessed a renaissance with its comeback.
“We’re thrilled that the brighter minds prevailed and we’ve allowed this youth movement to come in, do their thing and exercise their enthusiasm, and here we are today,” he said. “We’re growing, and we’re happy about it.”
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher