Sign in / Join

Campaign aims to help save struggling gay nightclub

Faced with a crushing debt and the prospect that he’d have to close the gay nightclub he started 21 years ago, John Shockey popped the words “Save Trumans” on his marquee.

All he wanted was to boost business at the bar in Mishawaka, Ind.

But Truman’s Nightclub, a dominant piece of the 100 Center complex on Lincoln Way West, had become more of a symbol.

At least, that’s how Jason Moreno and Jed Walls saw it. The two men only knew of each other when they stepped forward and asked Shockey if they could raise funds to dig him out of his debts, which he roughly estimates at $32,000.

Shockey agreed. They led a focus group to dig up ideas for him to grow the business.

And now they have an auction that culminates later this week.

“It’s a place to celebrate who and what you are,” said Walls, who used to dance in the club and has been involved with various local efforts to support the LGBT community. Without a place like Truman’s, Walls said, “The whole GLBT community goes underground. It becomes less of a community and much easier to abuse it ... the culture.”

People in the focus group called it a “tolerant center,” he said.

Moreno, who at 31 has a wife and child, took this up as president of the Civil Rights Student Association at Indiana University South Bend.

“The reason we felt it’s important is because it’s the highest profile GLBT establishment in the community,” said Moreno, who graduates from IUSB this year.

It’s important, he said, because of local issues like the proposal to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the South Bend Human Rights Ordinance, which was approved this week.

The efforts to save Truman’s, Moreno said, is yet another way “to keep things on a level playing field.”

Shockey said he’s never been in debt this badly.

As the economy nose-dived, he said, the number of Truman’s customers held steady for the most part, but they were spending a lot less. Unemployment benefits were running out.

Shockey said he could tell because he saw a lot fewer customers paying with the debit cards that the state issues for unemployment benefits.

He said he’s two-thirds of the way through paying off his mortgage debt.

He owes real estate taxes from last year, along with music licenses. But if he can’t pay his liquor license by June 21 – the deadline to renew it – that would shut down his ability to do business, he said.

He put “Save Trumans” on the marquee a couple of months ago.

Now his supporters are making a video that they’ll send as a plea to get on the business makeover show “Tabatha Takes Over” on cable TV’s Bravo channel. They’re writing letters to TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, too.

They’ve made “Save Trumans” bumper stickers.

They’re using social media to spread the word – a tool that he teaches in a class at IUSB and a key part of his business advising nonprofits, called Gnosis Consultation.

Walls had a Facebook page for GLBT issues that he renamed “Save Trumans.” It has since grown from 48 to 229 members.

The focus group drew 18 to 20 people, both gay and straight and including regular customers and those who’d never been there.

Their top suggestion was updating the decor in these 11,000 square feet, where carpet and paint show their age in a steeply roofed brick building that’s part of the old Kamms brewery.

Shockey agrees but says bills will come first.

They also suggested more diversity in the entertainment, like adding belly dancing or burlesque, Walls said.

Drag shows are popular in the lounge and karaoke in the sports bar, Shockey said. Upstairs, deejays play music in the spacious nightclub. And there are the occasional Bingo and variety shows.

Until about 2005, Shockey said, he’d bring in rock and alternative bands – not just the gay entertainment – but they didn’t succeed. He also had a piano bar in the lounge that fizzled.

But the recent efforts have caused business to pick up about 20 percent, he said.

He employs about 20 people and is one of a handful of nightlife options in the 100 Center.

Even after the auction, Moreno said, “We’re not going to relent until he’s in the clear.”

Leave a reply