MASARYKTOWN — Two years ago, the list of expenses and needs at the Masaryktown Community Center was lengthy, and the group's bank balance somewhat anemic.
Since that time, the financial picture has improved significantly and the future is looking healthier.
Thank you, Dollar General Store.
The sale of a 1.7-acre plot of land, disconnected from the center's site, to the discount retailer has enabled the nonprofit community organization not only to get comfortable with its operating expenses, but also to refurbish the center, modernize its kitchen, reseal the parking lot and basketball court, and continue its mainstay source of revenue — twice-a-week bingo.
The property sale in 2012 netted about $95,000 and brought a much-needed general merchandise store to the community.
Larry Dodson, vice president of the community center's board of directors, said recently: "We weren't in a financial bind, but we weren't happy. When you're Slovak and you don't have money in the bank, you're not happy."
The tight community of fewer than 1,000 residents, on either side of U.S. 41 south of Brooksville, has touted its Czechoslovakian roots and cultural heritage since its founding by immigrants in 1924.
As for its fundraising bingo on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the center carried on, albeit with slackened attendance, while other veterans organizations and civic clubs in the county gave up over the last several years.
"(Attendance here) has increased," said secretary Linda Lovelady, "and we get a lot of the same people coming here for years and years."
She acknowledged that business, and charitable work by the center, slacked off for a time.
"In the past, we'd given scholarships; that stopped for a while when things got real slow here," Lovelady said. "Now, things have gotten back on track this year and we donate to various charities."
Bingo chairwoman Barbara Hicks said many bingo venues began losing customers and money when Florida adopted no-smoking regulations years ago.
"A majority of bingo players are smokers. It was tough going five or six hours without their fix," Hicks said.
Over time, some venues instituted smoking breaks, and some smokers adjusted, she said. But by the time smokers were ready to return, it was too late. A number of places had closed.
In the meantime, Masaryktown drew in some of the bingo homeless. More than that, the center adjusted and accommodated.
With its replenished bank account, the center included in its modernization a state-of-the-art air-filtration system and established areas for smokers and nonsmokers, allowed by law for nonprofits.
"We have two separate rooms," Hicks said, "one large main hall with an area designated for non-smokers, but we also have a back room for nonsmokers."
"None at all," Hicks declared.
An expanded menu out of the center's kitchen, brightly updated with more appliances, has translated into more food sales.
"More people buy dinners," Dodson said, "clams, steaks, steak and shrimp, hamburgers and hot dogs, anything you want. It's about $6, $6.50 for a meal, but you can't get the meals unless you play bingo."
While early-bird bingo games commence at 5:30 p.m. and regular games at 6 p.m., the center's doors open at 2 p.m. So, hearty meals attract.
A standard card package is $15.
Bingo attendance is running about 140 players a night. Since recently advertising the venue on cable television, players from Tampa are augmenting the diehards from Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties, Dodson said.
The center, which seats 370, also is available for banquet, party and reception rentals, which also helps the organization raise money.
"It's like a family here," Hicks said, "and that includes workers and customers."
And, by the way, Dodson points out that even those residents who opposed the property sale to Dollar General Store are now shopping there.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]