The Vero Beach Bridge Center, one of the top duplicate bridge clubs in North America, reopened July 5 with gala Independence Day-themed festivities after a 16-month pandemic hiatus.
The bridge club’s directors decided to require players to be vaccinated against the virus in order to participate in face-to-face games on Monday and Friday afternoons, basing the decision on a survey of the group’s 850 members, said co-managers Jamie Portell and Martha Glassmeyer.
“That was one of the questions: ‘Would you feel safe returning to play if everyone were vaccinated?’” Portell said. “The majority did not want to play if masks were required, but the majority were fine with requiring vaccination.”
A new state law bars the nonprofit group from requiring proof of vaccination, so the honor system is in effect, Portell said.
A summertime record of more than 100 people attended the grand reopening, even though many members had returned to their summer homes, Glassmeyer said.
“We wanted to make it festive,” Portell said. “It’s been 16 and a half months since we’ve been open and had seen most of these people. We see them online, but not really.”
The Vero Beach Bridge Center, 1520 14th Ave., just south of downtown, attracted 48 players, with two sets of partners sitting at 12 tables, for the face-to-face games this past Friday afternoon.
Several players said they enjoyed the reopening and are grateful for the opportunity to play twice a week face-to-face with their friends at the cozy card tables in the expansive bridge center.
“It was exhilarating because we survived the pandemic and we were here,” said Karen Adelman, a senior citizen who first learned bridge at age 11.
“I thought it was fabulous because I wanted to see all my friends,” said Bobbi Maffei, who has been playing bridge for 10 years. “It’s the social aspect for me.”
Jan Ruso, who has been playing bridge for 20 years, said the long layoff made the reopening seem “a little bit strange, but it was great to see everybody.”
The bridge club’s players and managers monitor the progress of the pandemic and are concerned about the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, but currently plan to continue the face-to-face games at 1 p.m. every Monday and Friday, Portell and Glassmeyer said.
The club holds online bridge games every day of the week, with games at 10:15 a.m., Monday through Saturday, and at 1 p.m., Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.
“The open game is larger in person here than our open game online had become,” Glassmeyer said. “So, that’s a big thing. We were able to serve more people this way, so that was a plus.”
The bridge club closed down Monday, March 16, 2020 in accordance with a state order shutting down non-essential activities but managed to get games up and running online two weeks later on Monday, March 30.
“Based on our [older] population and so many health concerns, we wanted to keep our players safe and not put them at risk,” Portell said of the 16-month, live-play hiatus. “We wanted to be cautious.”
“Somehow we knew about this online platform,” Portell said. “We contacted one of the officials through the American Contract Bridge League. Since we are a large known entity, they were willing to work with us to get it up and running so we were among the first clubs to be able to hold our own online games with our membership playing in these games specific to us.”
Founded in 1959, the Vero Beach Duplicate Bridge Club had approximately 1,200 members before the pandemic, making it the fourth largest organization in the American Contract Bridge League, Glassmeyer said.
“This little community served a whole lot of bridge players,” Glassmeyer said. “A lot of people have moved here for bridge. When they retire, they’re looking for small towns with a lot of bridge and they come here.”
The club purchased the former bowling alley at the intersection of Old Dixie Highway and 14th Avenue in 1995 and converted it into a two-floor bridge club with wall-to-wall tables, Glassmeyer said.
“Pre-pandemic, both of these floors were filled,” Glassmeyer said. “This is and was a big deal.”
Current membership recently ticked up to 860, with some players coming from as far away as Melbourne, Palm Bay, Port St. Lucie and Stuart, the co-managers said. The club’s goal is to return to pre-pandemic membership levels.
“We serve a largely older clientele,” Glassmeyer said. “I’d say most of our membership does have an underlying condition, so people are hesitant.
“A lot depends on the ‘D’ variant and whatever comes after that,” Glassmeyer said. “This situation is fluid, every time the news takes a turn. We’re in daily contact with the board.”