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The Little Rock Club, a downtown landmark that has played a key role in the area's development for half a century, will close Tuesday because of fallout from the coronavirus.

Members were sent notification by club president Ray Dillon that the restaurant and special-events venue will close permanently.

The club has been a convenient and ideal lunch venue since 1960 for business executives. The email to members was sent just before noon Friday.

Though it is 30 stories above downtown in the Regions Building, the club was not immune to the economic ills caused by the spreading virus.

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Membership has been difficult to expand for the past 10 years and club leaders worked to host banquets and other special events to keep revenue flowing in, Dillon said in the letter. Those events are being canceled in the pandemic.

"Restrictions on assembling due to covid-19 regulations resulted in many of these events being cancelled," Dillon wrote. "They also resulted in closing our dining room and Happy Hour and the combination of these circumstances make continuing operations unfeasible."

For 50 years, the club's restaurant has provided business leaders and guests -- often executives being recruited to move their families or their companies to the Little Rock area -- with a private and elegant meeting place.

"We're very saddened to see the closing of an icon in our business community," said Jay Chesshir, president and chief executive officer of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. "The Little Rock Club was a favorite of ours to host lunches for our economic development prospects."

Little Rock businessman Sherman Tate estimates that he has been a club member for 30 years and served on the board of governors for half that time. "It was a wonderful place for Little Rock," Tate said Friday. "It's sad we had to do this. We just got to the point where we were having trouble trying to grow the membership."

In December, club officials told Arkansas Business that membership was about 255. Tate noted that the club's leadership relaxed rules to promote the bar area as an after-work meeting place and to broaden and diversify its customer base.

"We were really trying several things," Tate said. "It was just difficult -- especially with a younger crowd."

Chesshir noted that the club played a key role in the area's economic-development efforts.

"Their amazing staff, food and atmosphere provided the perfect place to introduce potential new companies to Little Rock," Chesshir added.

"One of my favorite things to do was to walk business representatives around their glass walls to show Little Rock from a unique, 360-degree perspective. I always believed that it gave new business prospects a differentiated experience while visiting here. We certainly had a lot of success in visually showing why Little Rock is such a wonderful place."

The venue can trace its roots to the Top of the Rock Club, a private establishment on the 18th floor of the Tower Building, which was developed by a realty company owned by Winthrop Rockefeller. At the time, in 1960, the building at 319 Center St. was the tallest in Little Rock and the club was its crown jewel.

"The club was really something in its heyday," Tate said. "There's a tremendous legacy there that's gone by the wayside."

The club moved to the top of the Regions Building in 1986, replacing the closed Jacques and Suzanne's restaurant, which was an upscale eatery known for its fine dining and French cuisine. Today, the club still features two cut-glass chandeliers made in Italy that restaurateurs Jacques and Suzanne Tritten commissioned for their restaurant.

Business on 03/28/2020

Print Headline: Venerable LR Club falls victim to virus, will close

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