Fire forces local civic clubs to find new meeting places

Jul. 17, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

A day after the Fairview Dairy Bar burned down and The Flame Steakhouse next door sustained heavy smoke damage, regulars were left scrambling for new breakfast, lunch and dinner spots.

Few customers of The Flame, in particular, are as regular as the various civic groups that meet there weekly or monthly. The Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, the Lee County Kiwanis Club, the Jonesboro Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Sanford and the Sanford Area Association of Realtors all meet at the restaurant regularly; others rent out space in the restaurant for less regular meetings as well.

The Rotary Club of Sanford, said longtime member Sam Sillaman, has been meeting at The Flame probably since the restaurant first opened.

"I've been in the club over 21 years, and that's where I was inducted," he said.

And the restaurant holds more than just Sillaman's memories of club business. It also literally holds the club's history; they store equipment and memorabilia in a back room there.

The fire at the Dairy Bar next door happened less than 12 hours before the Sanford Rotarians were scheduled to meet. Now, Sillaman said Wednesday afternoon, the club's members are frantically emailing back and forth to try and pick a replacement.

"We're scrambling to try and find a place," he said. "Got all kinds of suggestions right now," including local restaurants, clubhouses and even the old Wilrik Hotel in downtown, where the group met when it first started but that is now an apartment building.

But no matter where they choose to meet for the next month or so, Sillaman said, there's almost no chance they won't come right back to their old stomping grounds at The Flame.

"If I were a betting man, which I'm not, I'd say dollars-to-donuts we'll be back there as soon as its open," he said.

Unlike their Sanford counterparts, the Jonesboro Rotary Club already has picked a temporary replacement spot, Cafe 121. And the Lee County Kiwanis Club settled on Davison's Steaks, where the group had met before moving to The Flame about three years ago.

"You know, Sanford just doesn't have too many options," Kiwanis President David Caplan said. "But anyway, Davison's has agreed to take us until The Flame can take us back. Or the board might vote to stay at Davison's, but I think we'd probably like to support The Flame since they will have been out of business for a little while."

John Ramsperger helps organize the chamber of commerce's Public Policy Luncheon, in which a guest speaker talks about a pertinent economic issue that will affect the area. It's held on the first Monday of most months at The Flame, but not during the summer, so Ramsperger said that there wasn't a meeting planned for August anyway.

But if The Flame is still out of commission come September, he said, the meeting will have to be moved to a yet-to-be-decided location.