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Big changes at the Halifax Club

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The Halifax Club is selling its historic home at 1682 Hollis Street but the club’s president says the move bodes well for the institution’s future. In the spring, the 153-year-old club laid off most of its employees, including the entire kitchen and wait staff. Instead of dropping in for lunches or drinks, members will need to plan ahead and ask the club to book caterers.

Now the club plans to sell the building and hopes to lease the space back from new owners. The deal has been drawn up and is awaiting board approval (scheduled for vote on May 28) at press time. If the plan proceeds, the building will change hands at the end of July.

Joanne Bouchard, the president of the Halifax Club, says it’s not yet clear if they’ll lease the entire building, or part of it. “This building was built for the club and it’s a historic building, so the ideal situation is that we stay here,” she says. “It seems like a natural fit.”

Bouchard said financially, it’s become increasingly clear that the club needs to change, starting with the switch to catering. “We thought it was a really good move to change things around and take that side of the business away from us having to run it, and have someone else look at it from more of a business view,” she says.

Fewer members today use the club as a third place between home and work, she said, and fewer members linger for long lunches, or for post-work drinks and cards. “Now, young people with businesses, they operate out of their homes, they don’t really have a business office right in town, so they’re more mobile,” she said. “It’s lunch on the go, it’s meetings on the go. It’s a different attitude. Less formal.”

Wadih Fares, a long-time member, regularly brought people to the club in his role as honorary consul for Lebanon in the Maritimes and for discreet business meetings. “It is very sad to see the presence of the club diminishing from the centre core of the city. It was a good place, a very appropriate place for a lot of us to go and have private meetings, private lunches,” he says. “I’m surprised that we didn’t have enough membership to keep it going.”

He hopes the club will find other ways to bring in more members and perhaps one day re-open as a staffed facility. Fares wonders how many members will take the time to book lunch at the club, rather than visiting a regular restaurant.

The club will bring in Rob MacIsaac’s Atlantic Culinary Innovations for booked events and they’re working hard on drawing special events like weddings. “[Rob] is very dynamic, interesting, and he knows how the club runs,” Bouchard says.

She said the club is also looking at developing the site to add a boutique hotel, either on its own or through new owners. The club owns the rights to build many storeys above the current location, which stretches to Granville Street. The hotel would open onto Granville.

Bouchard knows the club’s somewhat stuffy image may be a barrier, too, for a club that needs more people to pay the $850 to $1,390 annual membership fees.

“People are a bit nervous about the concept of a club. It sounds a bit hoity toity, but when you think about it there are members of the curling club, the fitness club, book clubs,” Bouchard says. “The context shouldn’t be too scary. It’s basically a place to get together where ideas are hatched. I think there’s more value to it than is recognized.”

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