Hanging Out in Rockford: A personal journey—part 16

I saw Bruce Hammond last week at Joyce Serrano’s visitation. I encouraged him to contact me about the acts he booked at the Endless Nights when it was upstairs at the Old Rock River Café. Bruce had a knack of knowing what acts would be hot nationally, and he had an established relationship with the radio stations. Unfortunately, I was never the music guy, and therefore my memory when it comes to those things is not the best.

Let it be known, though, that things were really innovative. Bruce saw to that. One night we booked Bun E. Carlos, and all of Cheap Trick showed up. Rick let it out that it might happen on the radio, and we had our single biggest night, doing in one night what it would usually take us a week to do. Making money, however, was another matter. That always seemed to elude us. I remember Bruce and myself sitting in the upstairs discussing an evening’s event. I can’t remember the numbers exactly, but it went something like this.

We had around 200 paid admissions to the evening’s entertainment at $3 per head. This minus a small percentage went to the band. We took in around $1,900 at the bar. This was what we had to take our profit, or contribution to overhead, out of, as well as pay wages, cost of sale, etc. We were sitting discussing the fact that this only amounted to $5 or $6 per person, or around a couple of drinks even at those days’ prices. They needed the money to buy their cocaine. The dealers were making more money than we were, and they had no cost of overhead.

Cocaine was everywhere. (Let me state at this time that to this very day, I have never tried the stuff. An old girlfriend used to say that other people took cocaine to be like me, the way I was naturally.) But cocaine was everywhere, and everyone, even including public officials, was involved. I lost my business to it. We were doing $15,000 or more a week, and nothing was getting to the bottom line. We had to make a certain amount of money or go out of business. We called in a private firm to help us with our trouble.

Before hiring the detective agency, in the interest of fairness, I warned the staff that we were going to do it. I remember the first report I got. “Then bartender **** took a bill out of the drawer with her left hand and put it in her left pocket.” I looked at the investigator and said, “That wasn’t a one was it, you would do that with your right hand?” He nodded his assent. “Then bartender **** went back to your office with two gentlemen. When Bartender **** returned, she bought the two men drinks on the house.” But there were countless others that we did not catch. This was on the order of $100 to $300 per day, per person. Cocaine is very expensive, especially when you have a habit.

The sting operation and the firing of a few employees had the desired result. Our profit jumped up almost to where it should have been. It wasn’t lasting, though; the next month was less than half, the following even less. I told the staff we were bringing the agency in again (I lied, we didn’t), and the profit jumped back up almost to the original amount. But the handwriting was on the wall. Years later, a friend of mine told me that two of the bartenders in Endless Nights used to have contests as to who could steal the most. I wish he had never told me if he wasn’t going to tell me when it would do some good.

We had problems on the other end also. We had employees who were openly engaged in the drug trade. One of these had a system at the pool hall desk. The client would pay for the drugs at the desk as if he was paying for pool. Then the drugs would be deposited under the waste can in the men’s room. That way, the drugs and the money would not be in the same place, making it harder to get busted. Someone told me about this also, when it was too late. We tried cooperating with the police to keep the dealers out, but that only hurt business. It was a downward spiral that eventually led to our demise. But enough of that. Next week I want to discuss what was going on around us in the downtown area.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the june 22-28, 2005, issue

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