Up in smoke, one year later ban gets mixed reviews
All the stories in this package were written by students in Journalism 111, which meets on Monday evenings.
ROBERT CONRADI THE WASHTENAW VOICE
A group of friends enjoy a smoke outside of Aubree’s Saloon in Depot Town, Ypsilanti
Jim Nolan leaned on the bar at Powell’s Pub in Ypsilanti, rolling a well-loved but unlit stogie in his hand.
“Well, you can chew on ’em,” said Nolan. “You just can’t smoke ‘em.”
Nolan, 62, of Ypsilanti, has been a regular at Powell’s, on Huron River Drive, for years.
“I used to be a pipe smoker in here,” he said.
Not anymore. Not for the past year, since Michigan imposed a smoking ban on bars and restaurants. And some proprietors, like owner Rick Powell, have seen a decline in patronage.
“Yes it did affect business,” said Powell. “Did it help as far as non-smokers coming in? I don’t know about that so much.”
“I added the enclosure to the deck to try to overcome it,” Powell said. “In the winter people will go out to smoke and leave sooner.”
There has been some loyalty to Powell’s Pub in spite of the inconvenience.
“It did have a negative effect. I’ve heard customers say they would rather be at home or in someone’s backyard where they can smoke, but still Rick enclosed the patio for the winter to accommodate his clients,” said Christine Asadoorian, who calls herself a bartendress. A lot of the regulars still come, smokers or not, because they like the social environment here.”
Decline in patronage isn’t the only thing that the ban has affected. With a loss in revenue also came an increase in other expenses.
“The other impact it had on me was it increased my heating bill with people going in and out,” said Powell.
And Powell’s is not the only bar apparently feeling the sting.
“I’m in a lot of other places, and the bar owners are complaining,” said Bill Ramsey, the karaoke DJ at Powell’s. “I’m a non-smoker, but I’d say it definitely affected business. Even the lottery is down. People aren’t comin’ in.”
Some patrons have a different take on the ban, however.
“I don’t miss smoking in bars, really I don’t,” said Katie Nolan, 28, of Ann Arbor.
“I’m an ex-smoker, but I don’t think I would be if they still smoked in bars,” said Kelly Van Buren, 36, of Ypsilanti.
One thing that was an issue for Powell was the fact that he had no say in the matter.
“I should have had a choice on it,” he said. “I pay for a food license and a liquor license. Why not have smoking licenses? I would have paid for that. I know a lot of bar owners that would have paid for that.”
But at the end of the day, even Powell saw a bright side to the ban.
“You can wear your shirts more than one day,” he admitted. “You don’t go home smelling like smoke.”
Blind Pig/Eight Ball, Ann Arbor
LEONORA LUPASTIAN THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Sava’s restaurant on State Street in Ann Arbor is one of the few Ann Arbor restaurants that were smoke-free before the state ban.
Like ash flicked from a smoldering cigarette, years of smoke and haze are becoming a thing of the past since last year’s smoking ban. Ann Arbor’s Blind Pig/Eight Ball Saloon has smoked its patrons more often than not while hosting bands, serving beer and chalking up cue sticks over the years.
When asked about the smoking ban, Chris Good, a performer and patron of the Blind Pig living in Ann Arbor said, “I love it.” He no longer feels horrible the day after performing or attending a show from all the second-hand smoke he’d inhaled.
“Long and short, it’s what people expect at a bar,” said Colum Slevin, Blind Pig bartender/bouncer.
But Slevin doesn’t smoke, and he likes not going home smelling like a bar at the end of the night.
Good can sympathize with the smokers who don’t want to leave their friends to go outside and have a smoke. He noticed a smoker’s subculture outside venues while living in New York City, where smoking bans have been in effect since 2003.
“The alley is becoming a social scene,” Slevin said, “A dozen or so people are in the alley at any given time now.”
Brian Lydic, of Ann Arbor, found the smoke to infringe on his experiences at shows and in the downstairs bar. He said his experiences are more pleasant since the ban has been implemented.
Slevin expected a downfall in attendance at the Blind Pig. However, “When people are coming to see a band, they are coming to see a band,” he said. Yet, he’s noticed some daytime regulars of the Eight Ball less often than in the past.
During his first visit to the Eight Ball after the ban, Lydic said it smelled like puke. He figured that it was a recent event, and that the lack of smoke wouldn’t make it “go away.” However, subsequent visits reveled to Lydic that this really is how the Eight Ball smells.
Papi O’ Nightclub, Ypsilanti
Lorna Smith believes the decline in business at this popular salsa club is the direct result of the smoking ban.
“I could totally go out on a limb and say that they’ve slowed down because of the ban,” said Smith, 27, of Ypsilanti. “Because when people drink, they like to smoke. Now they can’t do that anymore.”
Papi O’ Nightclub is a Latin dance club on Ellsworth Road in Ypsilanti, but not everyone agrees with Smith about why business has declined.
“I think it has something to do with the economy, because people can just go outside to smoke now,” said Papi O’ bouncer and worker Daniel Ramirez, 28, of Ypsilanti.
However, owner Mark Finley of Ann Arbor, sees a combination of both factors.
“I’ve noticed a big decline,” he said. “It’s probably more due to the economy, but the smoking ban probably didn’t help.
“I don’t think it made a lot of sense for Michigan to do that. I think there’s more important issues they could be dealing with. (The ban) has increased security problems because people want to come in and out of the club. We have to keep more track of who has paid.”
Things aren’t all bad, though.
“On a positive note, it has made cleaning a lot easier,” Finley said, “but overall the ban hasn’t been a positive thing for business.”
Buffalo Wild Wings, Ann Arbor
“It reminded me of the fear leading up to Y2K,” Ben Storey, manager of the downtown Ann Arbor Buffalo Wild Wings, said of Michigan’s Smoke Free Air Law.
“There was a lot of concern that it would really hurt business,” Storey said, but he remained skeptical. And he was right. While there was a temporary lull in business, Storey said business is back to usual now.
“It’s very easy for people to just go out the front door to smoke,” he said. “It’s a bit more work to pick up the butts now, but otherwise the ban has been a good thing.”
Storey, who works a minimum of 10 hours each shift, said he’s noticed better breathing, and his eyes don’t bother him as much.
Patrons of the establishment used to be allowed to smoke in the bar area, but not the dining area. Darryl Hondorp, a non-smoker from Ann Arbor, remembers going to Buffalo Wild Wings specifically because of the smoke-free designation in the dining area before the ban.
“Really, though, smoking and non-smoking sections were always a farce,” Hondorp said, “so I am favorably disposed to the ban.”
David Bennion, a smoker from Ann Arbor, also looks favorably on the ban.
“I miss having a bar where I can go smoke, like Ashley’s for example,” he said. “However, not being able to smoke in Buffalo Wild Wings in particular doesn’t really bother me. In a sports bar with so many televisions, the smoke can make it harder to see them.”
Sava’s, Ann Arbor
Smoking was never an issue at Sava’s restaurant in Ann Arbor because it never was allowed.
“The space is too beautiful anyways,” said manager Felicia Flores 26. “We knew the ban was coming up. We knew eventually we wouldn’t be able to smoke, so why start a culture of smoking at the bar and then quit?”
Not everyone quite agrees.
“I’m a smoker,” said waiter Robert Brennan 22. “If you would have talked to me a year ago, I would have said this is ridiculous. I don’t think its right. It’s America. It’s a free country. If we want to smoke, we should be able to smoke. But now I am a little more mature. I want to quit smoking.”
The smoke-free law requires that smokers be 25 feet from the serving area in order to have a cigarette.
“In the summer, the smoking ban doesn’t affect business. But in the winter it affects it a little more,” Flores said. “People are more hesitant to go out to the bar because they have to go outside to smoke.”
Damon’s, Ann Arbor
“If you must smoke, take your butt outside,” wrote an unknown author. But the foregoing play on words reflects a recent development at Damon’s, a sports bar on State Street in Ann Arbor, where Michigan’s public smoking ban is enforced on a daily basis – with some positive results.
“The no-smoking policy has brought more children into the restaurant,” said Chanel Awley, of Ann Arbor, who became a hostess one month before the state enacted the smoking ban.
Awely says she personally appreciated the switch since she is a non-smoker.
“We only had smoking at the bar (before the ban), but those on the restaurant side were still affected by the smoke,” said bartender Greg Lockridge. “The customers seem to like it better now.”
Lockridge agreed that the smoking ban made Damon’s more kid-friendly.
The ban also encouraged at least one Damon patron to kick the habit.
“Making it harder to smoke at the bar just gave me all the more reason to stop smoking,” said Jason Biehl, of Ypsilanti.
Aubree’s Pizzeria and Tavern, Ypsilanti
A darkly lit room filled with televisions running college basketball, a bartender serving drinks to customers and three young boys and their father being seated in this very bar-like atmosphere:
This was the scene at Aubree’s Pizzeria and Tavern on Whitaker Road.
“We usually see people in here that would have never been here before because of all the smoke,” said Manager Kurt Frost, who feels that families seem to enjoy the smoke free environment.
Not all of the news is positive, though.
“When the smoking ban was first passed, we saw a third of bartending sales drop off for the first three of four months,” Frost said. “After that, things pretty much went back to normal.”
Frost could not say if it was because of the smoking ban, or due to many people losing their jobs around the same time. All that is certain is that Aubree’s has found new customers in the family market, and the air in the place is a lot cleaner.
The Bomber Restaurant, Ypsilanti
The Bomber Restaurant has been a landmark for Ypsilanti residents since 1936, when it opened under the name Baldwin’s Diner.
Formerly a smoke-friendly establishment, guests at The Bomber could have a cigarette with their morning coffee, but all that changed early last year.
After intensive cleaning to remove any trace of smoke, The Bomber got a three-month jump on the smoking ban by making the transition on Feb. 1 instead of when the state-wide ban went in to effect on May 1.
“We see a lot more families and elderly people now,” said Katie Dixon, a long-time waitress at The Bomber.
Customers who once came in by themselves to smoke and eat now bring their friends and loved ones to share a meal and enjoy the memorabilia found on the walls at the diner, which is focused on the area’s aviation history.
“I’ve been waiting on the same guy for six or seven years,” said Dixon. “Now he brings in his mother every Sunday. It’s a real treat!”
According to Dixon, the only problem they have after the ban is keeping tabs on a few tables when customers step outside for a cigarette during a meal.
Colonial Lanes, Ann Arbor and Wayne Bowl Lounge, Wayne
When Michigan became the thirty-eighth state to pass a ban on smoking in the workplace, there was a lot of concern the law may put some establishments out of business, especially popular hangouts of 21-35 year olds who drink and smoke as part of their entertainment.
Especially at bowling allies.
Indeed, Colonial Lanes located in Ann Arbor, saw a downturn for the first three months after the ban went into effect, but has recovered nicely.
“We saw an increase in new families coming out to bowl,” said Roger Philipi, Colonial’s manager.
The proprietors of Wayne Bowl Lounge, located across from the Ford Assembly plant on US-12 in Wayne, were worried at first, as well. But they’ve been surprised how well their customers adapted.
“It was hard on the chain smokers,” said Nikki Kiester, manager of Wayne Bowl. “Between frames, they would run out for a smoke, but today they wait until the 10th frame to have their smoke.”
There was even a positive impact among older bowlers.
“The senior citizens were very happy with the change, and had many positive comments,” said Sandy Haner, a Wayne Bowl employee.
So after a worrisome start among the bowling establishment, everyone is now breathing a little easier.
Dan’s Tavern, Saline
The smoking ban has been an unmitigated blessing for Dan Kolander, 49, proprietor of Dan’s Tavern for 13 years.
Since the ban was enacted, business at the popular Saline establishment has increased 40 percent, so much so that Kolander is expanding into the empty store next to his. Furthermore, his health has improved.
Kolander is sure that the improvements are a result of the ban. Customers often express appreciation that they can now bring their kids, said Kolander. On the day before the law went into effect, he extensively cleaned the tavern.
“Man it smells really good in here,” his customers told him repeatedly. “It’s so nice to smell food instead of smoke.”
Before the ban, Kolander’s son, Rob, said that he and other service staff needed to shower after arriving home after 2 a.m., because the smoke smell was overpowering.
Dan, a non-smoker, said that smoke was so thick for so long that he developed a “smoker’s cough” and suffered from pneumonia. Since the ban, his respiratory problems have gone away.
Dan’s Tavern is known for great burgers – which comes as no surprise, since Kolander acquired his cooking and hosting skills in the culinary arts program at WCC in the 1980s.
Benny’s Family Dining, Ann Arbor
Benny’s has been a dining staple in Ann Arbor for a long time, with signed photos from Olympic champion Michael Phelps and several former Michigan football players decorating the walls.
Until the smoking ban last year, Benny’s was known for allowing customers to smoke inside.
Following the ban, however, the staff noticed an increase in customers.
“A lot more people come in now that they know we’re not smoking,” said Lorena Dosti, an employee at Benny’s for about a year.
“A lot of people just love it,” said Alice Luth, who has been working at Benny’s for 10 and a half years.
“The ones that do smoke have no problem going outside,” said Dosti. “We have no problem.”
And it’s made a difference.
“You really notice the scent of a cigarette on someone,” Luth said, describing customers who step back in after having a smoke. “I think it’s better for business here.
“And cleaning wise, it’s awesome. I think it’s great for the food industry.”
Flaming Shish, Saline
Flaming Shish in Saline served tasty Middle Eastern food at an affordable price. And after a few years, the owner added hookahs and the place became known as Flaming Shisha.
“Shish” derives from a Turkish word for skewer, while “Shisha” is a syrupy tobacco mixture smoked in a hookah.
Within months after enactment of the ban on smoking in restaurants, the establishment closed.
Workers at neighboring businesses believe that the state law was a contributing factor in the closing. The business model seemed to necessitate both food and smoking.