The only sober club left in Akron could be forced to close its kitchen — or even its main doors — if it cannot raise enough money to pay for required safety equipment.
The Dry People’s Club, opened in 1982 at 172 Brittain Road, must install a larger hood over the stove and install a “wet” fire-suppression system in the cooking area. Club officials say the improvements could cost $23,000 to $24,000.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” said club manager Rebecca “Becky” Bergquist, who also is the recording secretary of the nonprofit organization that runs the club where a dozen 12-step and other recovery meetings are held each week.
Within the past three years, the Arid Club on Brown Street in Akron and the Today Club II on North Main Street in Akron, both gathering places for people in recovery from alcohol and drug and other issues, have closed.
The Dry People’s Club depends on money from food sales and from meetings fees to help pay bills, Bergquist said. Members — currently there are 33 — pay $4 in dues each month.
Bergquist volunteers her time at the club as part of her recovery, being paid only gas money for trips to the grocery store for supplies and for meals at the club when she is working.
She understands the city’s issues and the need to upgrade the safety systems at the club but is concerned the operation might not be able to come up with enough money to pay for the improvements.
The club had been charging only $5 per group meeting, but recently doubled that fee to bring in more money for the kitchen upgrade, Bergquist said. So far, she said, members and friends of the club have donated about $180 toward the fire-safety system.
“We have a long way to go,” she said.
The club owns its own building and is not behind in any of its bills, Bergquist said.
The problems at the Dry People’s Club revolve around a few main issues, Akron Fire Chief Robert Ross said.
The hood over the cooking area needs to be enlarged to cover the entire cooking surface, and the fire-suppression system needs to be a “wet” system that will extinguish hotter fires that vegetable oils can fuel.
The club currently uses a “dry” system that the State Fire Marshal’s Office said has not been allowed in the fire code for eight years and was designed for when kitchens cooked with animal fats, said Michael Duchesne, public information officer for the fire marshal.
“Vegetable oil cooks at a higher heat,” he said.
The club has two main rooms downstairs and two apartments upstairs. The lower floor includes a meeting room and the kitchen area, with a lunch counter and tables.
Ross said the issues in the kitchen are made more serious, because there are apartments above that room. Also, manufacturers of the dry-chemical suppression systems are discontinuing support for those products.
“It is not our business to try to disadvantage places,” Ross said. “We want to try to help and work with them, but safety is our primary goal.”
Ross said there are many other restaurants in the Akron area that are facing the same kinds of issues, although he could not provide that number.
“We hope they are able to do the right things,” he said of the Dry People’s Club. “There are a lot of people they help.”
On a recent weekday, customers in the club’s kitchen were hopeful that the money would be raised to pay for the needed improvements.
“We have good faith that good things will come about,” said Joe Grubich, 86, a member of the club’s board of trustees and sober for 43 years.
Trish Eddy, 38, volunteers as a cook in the kitchen two or three days a week as part of her own sobriety — now at about four years.
“[The club] saved my life,” Eddy said, when asked why she helps out by cooking.
“I have faith in God that he will provide,” she said. “This is a great outreach to the community that has saved many lives.”
Bergquist, in recovery since 2007 and manager since 2008, guessed there are “hundreds and hundreds” of people who have attended recovery meetings at the club in the more than three decades since it opened. She hopes some who have been helped will now help the club in return.
“The best thing I can hope for is maybe somebody in recovery is now successful,” she said.
An option for the club is to simply close the kitchen and serve only beverages, Bergquist said.
“If it is meant to be, then it will be, and if it is not, then we will have to close,” she said. “We are just trying to keep the doors open.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.