Local bars and restaurants were bracing for the worst when a city ordinance made every business go smoke free in 2007. Two years later, restaurants say they’ve weathered the clear skies, while one downtown bar manager says business was better when patrons could have a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
“Business has been down, happy hour especially,” A.C.’s Bar and Grill General Manager Leigh-Ann Gobel says. “Smokers are stuck in their ways.”
Gobel says many customers are now going to places with outdoor seating.
“With other properties, customers can bring drinks outside and smoke, so now they are going to those places,” Gobel says. “We don’t even have room for a bench.”
Some restaurants have considered putting in a porch or patio for smokers; however, space and money are a big factor.
Earlier this spring, the city approved a patio at Mad River Bar and Grille. Manager Christian Kandl says the patio should increase capacity and help the bar compete with other outdoor offerings downtown. “It’s not only for the smokers,” he says.
That may not have been the only reason, but it was a key factor in the city’s support for the patio, with zoning staff noting the unsightly blight of sidewalk smokers.
Mad River currently has a front patio for smokers, and Kandl says they haven’t received any complaints from other customers.
“The only problem is the cigarette butts,” Kandl says.
“We don’t have the capability,” says Chris Vixon, general manager of Wild Wing Café. “I think any restaurant would put in a patio or porch if they could.”
Vixon says most customers are pleased with the smoking ban, and it really hasn’t affected business.
“A lot of people like it because you don’t smell smoke inside now,” Vixon says. “Other than the bar crowd, there have been no complaints or issues.”
College student and smoker Ben Mitchell says the smoking ban in bars isn’t fair to bar-goers.
“People like to smoke when they drink, and now they don’t have that option,” he says.
But the smoking ban in restaurants is better for the customers and overall environment, Mitchell says.
“I don’t mind (the ban) in restaurants,” he says. “I don’t like the smell of cigarettes when I eat and I am a smoker, so I am sure non-smokers can’t stand it even more.”
Smoker Morgan Johnson believes the smoking ban is reasonable because it is the only way to be fair for everyone.
“People who don’t smoke shouldn’t have to endure the smell and be forced to breathe it in the air,” Johnson says.
It’s an argument that has drifted to other municipal leaders. Last month, South Carolina was recognized by the Americans for Nonsmokers Rights for having the most local ordinances of any state banning indoor smoking.
Gobel says the most difficult part is losing money and not being able to know if people leave when they step outside for a cigarette.
“You can’t smoke inside, and you can’t loiter or block the sidewalk, so people don’t know what to do,” Gobel says. “We don’t want to lose anymore people.”
And it’s clear to her that non-smoking customers aren’t stopping in for the clean air.
“If they never came into A.C.’s before, they aren’t going to now. There is no increased business,” Gobel says.