To close or not to close

Who better to ask about the impact of the upcoming G8 Summit on the restaurant business than the owner of a downtown landmark?

Paul Miller has owned and operated Vinnie Van Go Go's for the past 13 years. Located on the corner of Jefferson and West Bryan, Vinnie Van Go Go's draws a huge crowd every night, regardless of the time of year and often regardless of the wait time.

However, Miller expects that the G8 will slow that business down.

“I think it's going to be a slow time, rather like when the Olympics were in town,” he says. “It's going to be hard to get around, so the locals will stay away.”

As for tourist dollars, Miller expects the normal tourist crowd will be displaced by media and those associated with the G8, who will mostly be working and have little time or opportunity to dine out downtown in Savannah.

However, for those that have to eat, Vinnie's may be the place.

“A lot of places are closing because of the G8, so by sheer luck of the draw, we may have a crowd. But, if I get 60 to 100 agitators out here in the square, we're going to shut down,” he says.

Open every day from 4-11:30 p.m., Vinnie Van Go Go's busyness can be measured by its pizza output. Miller stops during our conversation to figure out how many the restaurant bakes in week.

He finally gets a total. “We make a pizza about every 67 seconds.”

G8 will put little dent in Miller's income from Vinnie's for the year, so the financial aspect doesn't worry him.

“I can't get any busier,” he says. “If anything it's going to be slower than normal, more chaotic. If I seem unconcerned, it's because I've been doing this for 13 years. But my managers know, if things get out of hand, they have the discretion to close it down. I don't want Vinnie's to close during G8, mainly because the people who work here need their salaries. We will if we have to.”

Of more interest to Miller is who the national security agencies and local security forces are targeting. One moment, the city is wary of issuing permits to protesters; in the next, they are stating patrols are being stepped up to look for terrorists swimming from ships to shore, says Miller.

“Who are we expecting? Terrorists or demonstrators?” he asks. “I know the city does have to plan like this because of incidents in places like Seattle, but I think it's good the city decided to give the protesters permits for demonstrating in Forsyth Park.”

Despite the conference taking place on Sea Island, Miller expects a heavy media presence in Savannah proper.

“The protesters are here because the media will be here, and the media will be here because the protesters are here,” he says with a shake of his head.

With restaurants closing due to the traffic flow situation and the expected difficulty of navigating downtown and the related security points, Vinnie's will be a test case for how well those that stay open do during the summit. City leaders have stated the summit is expected to bring good revenue to Savannah, but Miller expects it will be mostly for hotels.

“We're just here to make pizza. We're just going to do business as usual. My management staff is experienced, as is my wait staff and the atmosphere speaks for itself. We're not a 'place' that's labeled for any one group. It's a really easy place to bring kids. We make good pizza. We're not trying to be a certain 'thing.' We're just who we are.”

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