In the 1980s, if you were looking for "the" place to hang out, you went to the V.I.P. Restaurant and Entertainment Complex in the Great East Plaza adjacent to the Eastwood Mall.
Jodi Bello of Girard recalled her impressions of the ballroom / disco dance area on teen nights.
"We would go on Sunday nights because it was under 21," she said. "We walked in, and it was like being in a club in New York. The raised dance floor lit up. Mirror balls were above the dance floor. There was all the glass and the brass railings."
The 25,000-square-foot complex opened March 6, 1980. The entertainment space was owned by Sanray Corporation - Ray Travaglini and Sandy Petruso.
The building housed several entertainment areas.
Razzie's Bar had a cozy feeling due to the brick wall and hanging plants. A small stage there offered comedians, jazz and country music.
The Backgammon Room had couches, loveseats, a fireplace and a brass railing-enclosed dance floor.
The Wicker Room, which was next to Razzie's, had a tranquil setting of trees and was a place for conversation.
The Nickelodeon Bar had a 1920s and '30s theme with Tiffany lamps and brass overhead fans.
The Grand Ballroom had a state-of-the-art light show that projected on the dance floor and a modern sound system, while the V.I.P. Restaurant was situated in a raised dining area between the Grand Ballroom and Razzie's Bar. It was separated from the other areas by large curtains.
After 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, admission was charged. On Monday and Tuesday, there was no cover charge.
Proper attire was required - no jeans, dresses for women, men in dress shirts, pants and ties.
"We got dressed up," Bello said. "It was the place to be. We stayed until the very last song was over. We never left early."
The V.I.P. was more than just a dance club. It was an event center that hosted bridal shows, political fundraisers, boxing matches, comedians, fine dining, wedding receptions and sports banquets.
Retired Niles police officer Bernie Profato worked at the V.I.P. in security from day one. While there, he met quite a few prominent people from politicians to celebrities.
"Celebrities, we stuck by them so they were protected," Profato said. "They had the Sportsman of the Year Award, guys like Eddie DeBartolo, Dan Marino, Tommy Lasorda. President Bush was there. President Ford was there. President Carter's wife was there. We worked with the Secret Service."
Though the V.I.P. became known as a disco, the fine dining restaurant had executive chef Mario Puccetti, who had trained in Florence, Italy.
Jo Medovich of Niles recalled going to the V.I.P. Restaurant with family visiting from out of town.
"We had family in from New York City, and I think my husband's sister was in town from California, too, at the same time, so you have someone in from a big city and you want to take them to a nice place," Medovich said. "We were all dressed up to go there."
The V.I.P. was a 21 and older establishment, except for Sunday night "Teen Nights." Bello began going there with friends on Sundays. Later, she went there during her courtship with her husband, Mark, who recalled wearing the skinny ties popular in that era as part of his proper attire.
The disc jockey spinning their favorite tunes from the previous disco era and '80s pop hits was Carl Foster, formerly of Niles. After seven years as an Air Force broadcaster, he returned home and started working as a DJ, beginning at Sabatini's, formerly near the Ridgeview Plaza on U.S. Route 422. He moved to the V.I.P. when Sabatini's closed.
Foster understood that his job was to set the mood in the ballroom and also to encourage trips to the bar for beverage purchases.
"I enjoyed getting the crowd pumped up," he said. "I would start around 8 p.m. If people were still eating in the restaurant, I would play softer music ballads. As people came and it filled up around 10, 10:30 p.m., the music would build up. I loved seeing the dance floor full."
Wearing a white suit and black shirt like John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever," Foster scheduled peaks and valleys to the music he played, putting in slow tunes to let the dancers take a break or allow the more romantically inclined to dance.
The V.I.P.'s reach extended to local television.
"We used to do a show on local cable access Channel 9 called 'Dream Date.' It was the reverse of 'The Dating Game.' Three girls got to ask questions of one guy. They would win prizes."
Although making an impression with many Valley residents, the V.I.P. Restaurant and Entertainment Complex closed in less than a decade in December 1987.
The owners cited the lack of parking at Great East Plaza since it began to expand with additional retail stores, the cost of remodeling and also a shift in the population as many young people moved out of the area as reasons for closing.
There also was a shift in popular music. Disco was no longer king.
Though The V.I.P. was a short-lived entertainment space, it created a large number of fond memories for the people who frequented the establishment.
"It was ahead of its time," Profato said.
In January 1988, the building was sold at auction, and it is now the location of TJ Maxx.