The Sons of Italy couldn’t make it in Schenectady and the last American Legion Post here has closed, but Nicola Ritano is convinced that a new club combining the two demographics will flourish.
Ritano won approval Wednesday for an Italian-American Veterans Club, which will be located in the former Eleganza Bridal Shop building at 824 Broadway. The Planning Commission approved the project without comment, but some members privately questioned whether it would succeed.
Architect Tony D’Adamo said he had no worries because the club will draw from a select membership.
“It’s a private club,” he said, explaining that only members will be allowed inside.
Those who qualify to pass through the doors will be able to play cards, watch sports, and participate in social events, Ritano said in an application to the city.
That sounds very similar to what was offered at both the American Legion posts and the Sons of Italy, but neither could draw enough members to stay open.
The last Legion post in the city closed in February, citing a loss in membership that made it impossible to pay the bills to keep the building open. The group had declined from 967 veterans in 1950 to 157, and only a few of the remaining members came to the post regularly.
Post officials said that veterans groups just aren’t as popular as they used to be, even though there are enough younger veterans to replace the aging members who fought in World War II and Korea. They speculated that younger veterans are just too busy to join up.
The Sons of Italy saw a similar decline in membership, falling to 188 from its peak of more than 500. So the group moved last year from its expensive city home to a much smaller hall in Rotterdam, where membership has nearly doubled.
In the last year, the club has inducted 120 new members as it renovated a new home on Hamburg Street. Many of those members are 30 to 40 years old, offered new blood to keep the club going for another generation.
One club official said members joined up because the new hall is near suburban, single-family neighborhoods. In the city, the hall was on Liberty Street near the heart of downtown.
The new Italian-American Veterans Club is within walking distance of many single-family homes, but renters make up more than half of the neighborhood.
The club will be open from 4 to 11 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 to 9 p.m. on Sundays.
In other business, the Planning Commission approved an addition for Safe House, which houses teenage runaways in hopes of keeping them from turning to prostitution for food and shelter.
The agency saw a 15 percent increase in runaways last year and hopes to use the addition to add two bedrooms. Rooms will also be built on the first floor, making the shelter handicap-accessible for the first time.
The new rooms will allow sexually traumatized youth to sleep alone and will create more room for teen mothers who run away with their babies in tow.
The addition will cost $500,000, of which the agency still needs to raise $300,000. Officials hope to begin building in 2009 with the goal of opening late that year.
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