Reinstalled sign draws visitors to Paradise Legion club
The Paradise American Legion club sign, which survived a major fire the razed the club 10 years ago, is lifted back into place above the entrance to the club which front Montana 200. (Chuck Bandel/VP-MI)
Valley Press | July 12, 2023 12:00 AM
Like the phoenix rising from the ashes in literary lore, a piece of Paradise has returned to its perch, symbolically and literally rising from the ashes of past tragedy.
After being razed by fire 10 years ago, the rebirth of the town’s lone remaining watering hole, the American Legion Post 129 bar and grill has undergone a shaky if not tumultuous rebirth on its way back from the ashes of past controversy.
The Legion’s flaming demise was the second blow for the town’s well-known bar scene. A few years earlier, the other bar in town, the Paradise Bar, also burned to the ground. Foul play was rumored to be the cause of both fires and remains a sensitive subject to this day among local patrons.
Throughout the ordeal, townsfolk and tourists alike have kept the bar open most of the past decade, with strong times and not so strong times in terms of financial health.
Recently, the bar, which fronts Montana 200 as it slices through the unincorporated town, has undergone management and operational changes due mostly to a changing workforce and economic hard times.
“It’s been hard to find and keep employees,” said current kitchen manager Brey King, who has been employed by the business in various forms since before the 2013 fire that ravaged the club. “We have begun to get back to our previous employee levels in what is a difficult time to find people who want to work.”
Last month the club closed its doors for several days in order to restructure the business, which had been doing well before the combination of Covid and inflation began to take a toll.
For a brief time the club did not have enough bartenders and cooks to keep the doors open.
Now, the business has begun to show signs of stability with the return of a limited but steadily increasing food menu. Tourists from among the hundreds of cars that whiz through town every day this time of year have begun to see what the club has to offer.
“There have been a lot of people who just pass on through town, not realizing there is a bar and grill right there on main street,” said Albert Blackmon, a tourist from Vancouver, Canada who stopped in hoping there was a public restroom. “A sign would help let people know you can get food and something to drink here”.
As it turned out, the lack of an outdoor sign had become a nagging (literally) issue for bar management as they pondered ways to increase their business. The solution, perhaps, was leaning up against the wall in a back storeroom.
A plastic neon sign, with the innards to be lighted at night, may be the answer.
“That sign was one of the few things that survived the fire in the old bar,” King said.
The decision was made that it was time to rehang the sign, an approximately 4X5 foot rectangle with the Legion logo and club name, was pulled from storage.
A group of volunteers, including Brey’s husband Darin King, along with local resident Danny Risland gathered last week with tools and determination to lift the club name into the limited Paradise skyline.
Using Risland’s vintage 1970 military style “deuce and a half” truck, outfitted with a lift crane by Risland, a crew of residents and patrons hoisted the sign to the pinnacle of the front door overhang where it was fastened in place to a newly built sign bracket.
And although the sign’s electric lighting capability has not yet been reconnected, the sign from the past is back where it was intended.
“We still have to wire it in and the bulbs inside need to be replaced,” Brey said.
Its first effectiveness test may have been a success, given the number of folks who stopped by for the club’s Fourth of July picnic and fireworks event.
A crowd, one resident said, that was like the ones from 10 years ago.