A popular Savannah nightclub is shutting down. Hip Huggers has been a part of the Savannah clubbing scene since the early '90s, but that all comes to an end tonight.
Eric Traub said a Savannah city ordinance that keeps anyone under the age of 21 out of clubs is hurting business at nightclubs. He was one of the strongest opponents of the ordinance.
Now, Traub is changing the way he's doing business to survive.
Hip Huggers will open its doors to the adult clubbing crowd for the last time tonight. Traub has made a living as the club's owner for the last 14 years, but he says Savannah's ordinance banning people under the age of 21 from clubs like his has taken too big a toll on business. He says 15 percent of his customers were under 21, but they weren't the only ones who left.
"We lost 85 percent of our business because the 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds had friends who are 21, 22 and 23 and they all stopped coming," said Traub.
He said while changing the law hurt his business, it was also the inspiration to try something new. "One door closes, one door opens, that's where we are," he said.
Traub opens the doors to his new club right where Hip Huggers stands on Saturday night. He'll serve pizza and soft drinks to 13- to 18-year-olds who are willing to pay a $10 cover charge. The dance floor, pool tables and video games will stay, but the liquor, neon beer signs and cigarette machine will all have to go.
Traub sees something much better in their place.
"The kids really love us and the parents love the facility," he explained. "It's clean, it's safe, it's fun. It's a place to dance and what we're doing here is having like a high school dance every Friday and Saturday night. It's bittersweet, but I'm very optimistic about the new direction that we're taking."
Traub said the club will call its establishment "a teen party at Hip Huggers" tomorrow night, but they'll hold a contest to let their new clientele choose a new name for the club.
Employees at some clubs, like Mercury Lounge, said business has been fine and they prefer catering to the over-21 crowd.
Savannah's ordinance went into effect in March 2006, making it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to be in a city bar or nightclub. The city said the ordinance is designed to cut down on teen crime. Since it went into effect, city officials and Savannah-Chatham police said arrests for underage drinking, disorderly conduct and open containers have all gone down.