The Mid-Day Club’s 79-year-old story may be almost over. If it can’t raise $25,000 over the next two days, the dining room with sweeping city views at the top of the Liberty Building will close after lunch Friday.
The illustrious club tried but hasn’t managed to adapt to changing times.
The 15 members who came to an emergency two-hour meeting Wednesday afternoon agreed that closing Friday was the best way to protect the interests of the chef and two servers who need to make alternate employment plans.
“It has come to a point where we are just trying to make it to the end of the day,” said Evan Coppola, the 27-year-old president, after the meeting.
Membership that included 250 lawyers, accountants and downtown workers a decade ago has plummeted to the current 50. Instead of selling the 15 lunches a day it needed to survive, the club is doing closer to just five, not enough to cover expenses.
Those who came Wednesday were champions of the Mid-Day, its camaraderie and old-fashioned emphasis on stepping away from work for a good lunch. They pledged $5,000 to keep the place open.
Still another $20,000 is needed to last three more months and come up with a new action plan, Coppola said. An emergency GoFundMe page he posted Wednesday morning had $350 by early evening.
“We need people, nonmembers and members, to book parties … We need 50 corporations to sponsor memberships for their internal people,” said Coppola, an investment consultant with Hudson Advisors. “It’s all about usage.”
News of the club’s dire straits led to new interest. One law firm with 20 associates inquired about a corporate membership, Coppola said.
“Until we get a signed membership application, it’s not real,” he said. “Unfortunately, the club closing is real.”
At least 20 more businesses or 30 new members are needed, he said. Memberships include about $1,000 for initiation and about $600 in annual dues.
The club is open to nonmembers on Fridays. Reservations are essential; for details, visit middayclubbuffalo.com.
“We’re still open on Friday for one last hurrah,” said Coppola, who grew up coming to the club with his father, Douglas, who had a law office on the floor below. “I’ve had many, many memories here. The staff made it a lot better. I think it’s a generational shift that we’re unfortunately the victim of.”
Financial troubles came in part with that shift: While younger members, who join at a reduced rate, were increasing, the older members, who paid more, were resigning.
The club’s space is part of its charm but also a liability.
To get to the 21st floor, diners must take the Liberty Building elevator to the 19th floor and walk up two red-carpeted flights of stairs to the white door with a brass knocker and a sign forbidding cell phones.
Stairs can be a barrier for people with difficulty walking and are an obstacle to turning the club into a restaurant.
Yet the quiet dining room with good views of downtown buildings, Lake Erie, the Skyway, LaSalle Park, Niagara Falls mist and silos wrapped as Labatt’s Blue cans enchanted those who made it to the top.
“You can see all the vibrance of Buffalo right now,” said Erin Goubiere, a product manager at M&T Bank who just joined the club. “It makes you feel really great about the city and what’s happening.”
Coppola explained that while the club has been trying to turn things around for five years, this summer it was particularly hard when the air conditioning broke and people who had booked parties canceled. There are also restaurant tabs in arrears that need to be paid.
“There’s some glimmer of hope,” Coppola said.