Tough choice for struggling Elgin VFW post: Time to sell building?

If you walked into the members- and guests-only bar of Elgin VFW Post 1307 on an average Friday night, you'd be lucky to find 10 people.

There is no bingo or fish fry anymore, although twice-monthly country line dancing and weekly raffles have survived. Occasionally, the hall gets rented for events.

And now, the post's membership will make a pivotal decision about its future on Jan. 2: Sell the building, or mortgage it to make much-needed repairs with no foreseeable means of repaying the debt.

Post Commander Art Buckheister and Post Quartermaster Scott Webb believe it's best to sell.

"The VFW is not about bars and canteens and things," Webb said. "The VFW is about veterans. Serving veterans and serving our community. That's what must be paramount. It's time to get out of the bar business."

Buckheister agreed. "We were pretty good at it for a lot of years. Now things have changed and it's time to refocus."

A decade ago, it was a whole different scene at 1601 Weld Road, where the 1929-era post moved in the 1980s.

The bar, smaller at the time, was packed and activities were hopping, so much so that members voted to invest all the post's savings, or more than $300,000, into an addition in about 2009.

But things didn't go as expected. Shortly after the new bar opened, Weld Road was closed off and later reconfigured as part of the yearslong reconstruction of nearby Route 20 and McLean Boulevard. That's when attendance took a nosedive, leading to declining revenues, Webb said.

Membership, now at about 280, has declined, as younger members aren't replacing older ones, especially World War II and Korean War vets. Current members don't show much interest, with only 20 people showing up for this summer's family picnic open to about 600, including auxiliaries.

  VFW Post 1307 has 280 members, and 600 with auxiliaries, but only 20 showed up at the summer picnic. Brian Hill/

The post has tried to expand its younger membership by reaching out to the ECC student veterans' organization.

"Eventually they (the younger members) are going to come back and take over the VFW," Buckheister said, "but it's going to take a while."

Meanwhile, the property needs roof, heating and air-conditioning, parking lot and other upgrades, but it is barely making ends meet. The post's 990 tax forms for 2014, the latest available at, shows $193,000 in revenues with an end-of-year deficit of $2,000. The installation of video gambling machines didn't help much, Webb said.

Bills are still getting paid, though barely. The lights will have to be turned off within a year unless someone comes up with a miracle plan, he said.

Elgin's problems are not unique. For instance, VFWs in Woodstock, Park Ridge and St. Charles have sold their buildings in recent years, Webb said.

Four posts consolidated last year in Illinois, bringing the number to 314, said Terry Vance, state adjutant/quartermaster for the VFW Department of Illinois.

  Elgin VFW Post 1307 Commander Art Buckheister says the post could operate out of a storefront, or rent space from the American Legion, for example. Brian Hill/

Elsewhere, other service organizations have tried myriad approaches to remain solvent or solve problems.

For instance, Elk Grove Village VFW Post 9284 found a local Chevrolet dealer to sponsor a raffle of a new Corvette, the proceeds of which were used to fund construction of an elevator at its hall, used to host weekly dinners and serve as a gathering place for local veterans.

In Gurnee, the American Legion Post 771, pleading economic hardship, asked the village for permission to install video gambling machines. That request was denied, but the village started a craft beer festival to benefit mainly the post and other local groups. In November, the village presented the post with a $20,000 check.

The Elgin post could relocate to a storefront, share space with the American Legion, or even do without a permanent home, while preserving staples such as its color guard, patriotic essay contest for children, ceremonies honoring fallen veterans and more, the Elgin leaders said.

  Quartermaster Scott Webb, left, and Commander Art Buckheister both of Elgin say that Elgin VFW Post 1307 should sell its building. Brian Hill/

Buckheister says he knows full well the prospect of leaving the building on Weld Road is painful for many members. But he and Webb say they have researched every option, he said.

Make the bar open to the public? That would mean losing its privileged tax status, which allows the post to pay $1,600 in property taxes, instead of more than $13,000.

Market the bar to make it more popular? Not that easy, because the post is off-the-beaten path in an otherwise commercial area.

What if someone donated the money for the repairs? "It would take some pressure off us, but it wouldn't change anything," Buckheister said.

Yet state leader Vance said when posts suffer declining revenues, it's usually about management and leadership. "You have to have good communication, good programs within the community," Vance said.

  Elgin VFW Post 1307 Commander Art Buckheister says he knows selling the building is a difficult prospect for many members. Brian Hill/

Buckheister, who's in his second year in the top post, acknowledged leadership is responsible for lack of maintenance of the building. But the decision to build the ill-fated addition was made with approval by the membership and, most importantly, in good faith, he said.

"At least the majority felt it was a good decision," he said. "Now, it didn't turn out that way."

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