Originally created 04/15/04

Savannah merchants have mixed opinions of summit



SAVANNAH, Ga. - Soft guitar music played in the background of his upscale store as merchant Alton Brecker discussed an international economic conference called G-8 that's coming to coastal Georgia.

"It's going to be a wonderful experience to meet diplomats," said Mr. Brecker, who owns a men's store, Hilton Decker, and a neighboring women's boutique, Nickie Grace, in downtown Savannah.

He's also hoping well-heeled delegates and foreign reporters will buy his fine, European-made shirts priced at up to $195 each.

Several shops away, the manager of Debi's Restaurant isn't as enthusiastic.

Laurie Schmidt doubts the diplomats will want her homestyle food. And with heightened security, "The regulars aren't going to come," she said. As for business, "it could be a loss."

Savannah retailers, bankers and restaurateurs disagree whether the June 8-10 summit will boost or bother business. Bookseller Esther Shaver fears G-8 protesters could damage her store in the city's historic Madison Square.

"I'm equating it with a hurricane," she said. "You might be lucky. It might not hit."

When 1,200 delegates, 3,500 media representatives and an unknown number of protesters converge on Savannah, Ms. Shaver might lock her shop.

Diplomats from the "Group of Eight" nations - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States - will meet on Sea Island for talks ranging from trade to terrorism.

They and international media will stay in Savannah hotels. Protesters also are expected in Savannah and Brunswick. Recent trade meetings in Seattle, Miami and Evian, France, were marred by tear gas, smashed windows and some looting.

On the other hand, Canada's 2002 G-8 was peaceful and participants spent $220 million in Calgary, said Barry Bennett, the 2004 summit communications director.

Some Savannah businessmen welcome G-8 and the extra infusion of cash into the local economy.

It "should give Savannah a chance to showcase itself to the entire world," said Gerald Rainey, the president and CEO of SunTrust Bank.