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Conforming, but mainly unhappy

Monday, January 8, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:35 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Even mentioning the smoking ordinance that takes effect after midnight tonight will get you an earful from Lucy Reddick, owner of the modest Lucy’s Corner Cafe at Broadway and Fifth Street.

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“It’s my building, and I can do what I want with it,” says Lucy Reddick, owner of Lucy’s Corner Cafe. She has plans for a “smokers club” in what is now her restaurant’s smoking section once the smoking ban goes into effect. The city says the plan won’t fly. (Adam Wisneski/Missourian)

Her banana-yellow ponytail sways with the rhythm of her words, spoken with a scratchy but energetic smoker’s voice. She and her customers have talked about the new law every afternoon in recent weeks, she said.

Reddick is convinced the ordinance will hurt her business.

“They come here because they want to eat and smoke,” she said of her customers. “I know I would (lose business.) ... I’m a small business. I don’t make a lot of money like everybody else.”

So Reddick came up with a plan, and she’s happy to detail it. Her hips swing her skinny, energetic frame around a dog-leg of tables and through a doorway as she heads toward the smoking section of her diner. Customers sit in red, cushioned booths and at tables along the giant windows, sipping coffee and scraping syrup-soaked pancakes off their plates. A few customers light up, and the familiar smell of cigarettes fills the room.

Reddick announces that she’ll convert this room into a smokers club, where customers will pay a membership fee of $1 a day so they can smoke all they want and get their money back through a $1 discount on their meals. She hasn’t worked out all the details, but she said the smokers club would allow her to maintain a room where smokers can enjoy their scrambled eggs as well as their cigarettes.

“No, that’s not true,” said City Attorney Fred Boeckmann, explaining that any place open to the public will have to be smoke-free. The ordinance also applies to places of employment, he said, so if Reddick will have waitresses in the club room, it would qualify as a place of employment.

Reddick’s idea is an attempt to create a membership organization exempt from the anti-smoking ordinance. But the law states that to be exempt, membership organizations must, among other things, be not-for-profit organizations and be established by April 1, 2006.

In other words, Reddick’s idea simply won’t fly.

Boeckmann said the ordinance will be enforced largely through customer and employee complaints and inspections by the health department.

At Lucy’s, every employee smokes, and customers aren’t likely to complain. But health officials will continue to conduct regular inspections, Boeckmann said.

“When they do inspections, they’ll be looking for ashtrays.”

Reddick said she won’t let the legalities bother her.

“I think it’s wrong for them to tell you what to do.”

Buffalo Wild Wings

Linda Sypkens, a nurse at University Hospital, was among the crowd of people who gathered at Buffalo Wild Wings on Peachtree Circle to watch the playoff game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday afternoon. The bar was packed with fans wearing red shirts and shouting, whistling and clapping for their team. While several were children who had come with their families to sit and watch the game in the nonsmoking section, many of the customers puffed away at packs of cigarettes as the game wore on.

It’ll be the last time they do so.

Although Sypkens applauds the general trend toward smoking bans, she said it’s a bad idea for bars.

“You know that people in bars are going to smoke and drink, and the bar functions that way, after all,” she said.

Corinna Simon, 26, who works at a Jefferson City bar and as a hairdresser in Columbia, said the smoke doesn’t bother her.

“I know this is a perfect place to watch games and drink and smoke,” she said. And she agreed with Sypkens that prohibiting smoking in restaurants is OK, but to do so in bars is wrong.

“Restaurants are the place where families gather and have fun,” Simon said. “And bars are the places where people drink and smoke. You cannot expect people not to at a bar. Drinking and smoking kind of go together.”

MU student John Tierney, 21, said smoking is a cultural tradition that shouldn’t be restricted by city government. “Smoking is different from having a gun.”

A manager at the Wild Buffalo Wings, Chris Perejda, 23, said the ordinance will put a dent in Buffalo Wild Wings’ business.

“Even though we have a patio outside, that won’t help anything because of the 20-feet rule of the ordinance. They put an air-ventilation system on the ceiling, investing a lot of money, but now I guess it turned out to be a waste of money.”

Chris Schulz, another manager at the sports bar, put on a happy face.

“The smoking ban won’t stop people from going out and having a good time,” he said, adding that his customers are drawn to the sports, food and drink, not to the smoking.

Jon’s Pipe Shop

Step inside Jon’s Pipe Shop on Eighth Street for an instant reminder of one casualty of the smoking ordinance that’s not often mentioned. The sweet aroma of pipe tobacco swirls in the air, causing the light that cascades through the windows to streak all the way to the floor.

Wayne Davis emerges from behind the pipe- and cigar-filled counters. In his late 60s, Davis is a timeless character with a voice to match: Think Walter Cronkite meets Charles Kuralt, someone completely befitting his surroundings.

Davis isn’t shy about his feelings on the smoking ordinance. “The whole thing is stupid,” he said.

He finds it difficult to believe the measure can be enforced. “What are the nonsmoking vigilantes going to do when someone lights up? Chain them to a bar stool?”

Davis is well aware of the health issues involved. He doesn’t sell cigarettes and chewing tobacco precisely because they’re so bad for people. “It’s not nearly as clear-cut with pipe- and cigar-smoking,” he said.

Davis’ store, and others that specialize in tobacco products, are exempt from the ordinance, but Davis still anticipates he’ll take a hit. Many of his customers, he said, are “people going to bars and restaurants who stop by and pick up a cigar.”

Davis remains optimistic and contemplates ways businesses will be able to get around the ban.

“I hope that a number of these owners come up with a plan of their own,” he said. “I’ve thought maybe there need to be private clubs.”

The Blue Note

Richard King has several months of experience keeping smoke out of his downtown nightclub.

The Blue Note banned smoking in October, and King said feedback has been mostly positive — from both customers and workers — and the business hasn’t been hurt.

Going smoke-free was something he’d considered for a long time, he said, and the club had already hosted smoke-free shows.

Nonetheless, King said he disagrees with the ordinance. Whether to allow smoking is a choice that business owners should make, he said: “The marketplace should determine that.”

On the rare occasion that someone has lit up since October, King said, “they are usually embarrassed and apologize, put it out or go outside.” The club deals with smokers by using wristbands and hand stamps to let people go outside and re-enter.

Large crowds sometimes congregate on the sidewalk outside to smoke, King said, which is something he thinks will be difficult to change, even though the new law forbids smoking within 20 feet of a business’s doorway.

“We’re going to do our best to deal with it,” he said.

And what’s happened to the club’s ashtrays? King says that the Blue Note traded them in for what he calls “one giant ashtray” that sits outside, as far away from the building as possible. He hopes that will prevent people from tossing their cigarette butts in the street.

Ernie’s Café and Steak House

Ernie’s Café and Steak House also got a head start on the ordinance, but much more recently. Ernie’s management initially proposed eliminating smoking in December 2005, employee Erin McNeely said. Workers and diners talked them out of it, though.

“We didn’t eliminate smoking last December because of regulars who have always come to eat and smoke,” McNeely said. “This has become a tradition for people.”

Approval of the ordinance in October, however, made the change inevitable.

A-1 taxi service

Except for the green pack of Marlboro Menthols in the sun visor of his A-1 taxi, there are no telltale signs of James Wile’s habit of smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes each day.

Wiles said he was a smoker for 11 years, quit for about 15 years and started smoking again a year ago because of “boredom or the secondhand smoke.” Of the 30 or so people he picks up daily in his navy-blue Crown Victoria, he estimates about half smoke.

“They usually ask if this is a nonsmoking cab,” Wiles said, “and I tell them that I am a smoker.”

When new city rules take effect at midnight, smoking will be prohibited in vehicles used for public transportation, including taxis and limousines.

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Wayne Davis, owner of Jon’s Pipe Shop, where smoking will be allowed under the new smoking ordinance, said the ban infringes on business owners’ rights. He expects the ban to hurt his business. (Brandon Kruse/Missourian)

Wiles said he plans to take smoke breaks between fares and doesn’t expect any problems. He doesn’t mind if others smoke in his taxi but is uncomfortable with the prospect of having to ask passengers not to smoke.

“It is nice, though, to go to a nonsmoking venue,” he said.

Columbia Billiards

Tabitha Miner, 25, washes her hands and slaps a hamburger patty on the grill. Singing along with the jukebox, she prepares a drink for another customer while the burger sizzles behind her. Miner, an employee at Columbia Billiards on Ninth Street, talks between verses about the smoking ban and the effect it will have on her customers.

“It’s going to make more people quit than they realize,” Miner said.

Regular Billiards customer and occasional smoker Jesse Stauffer, 25, said he will still go to his favorite bars and restaurants, which include the billiards hall, but he’ll definitely think twice about going anywhere else.

“I’ll still come here,” Stauffer said. “I like this place.”

Liz Foley, 22, and Annie Schmidt, 21, think the ban will be an inconvenience, but they’ll still come to Columbia Billiards to enjoy the drink specials on Friday and Saturday nights.

“It won’t affect whether or not I come here,” Foley said.

Smoker Beau Wichert, 26, another regular at the pool hall, thought the business “might be marginally affected immediately after” the ban goes into effect. “But eventually people will come back.”

Miner and other Billiards employees Travis Langley, 23, and Mike Keen, 26, said they aren’t concerned about the new restrictions. Langley indicated they would collect all the ashtrays for a final time on Monday night when the rules take effect.

“We’ll probably just pile them all up in the back,” Langley said. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do with them.”

Quinton’s

What draws to certain bars? And how will the smoking law affect bar-goers? Such questions linger in the air as the clampdown on smoking in public areas draws near.

“If you’re a good business, you have a good product, then you’ll stay in business,” Anna Duff, a licensed massage therapist, said while socializing at Quinton’s on Friday night.

Duff supports the ban and looks forward to leaving bars without smelling like smoke.

MU theater student Dan Murphy said the ban could bring other benefits.

“It’s definitely healthier, but bars aren’t healthy places,” he said. He did predict some adverse consequences. “Not everyone has a roof to go onto. It’s going to get dirty outside, and there’s probably going to be more fights outside.”

Although Charlotte Snead, 46, is a nonsmoker, she dislikes the ban. When people go out to bars, Snead said, smoking, drinking and socializing are all part of the package. To her, it should be the customers’ decision, not city officials.

“It takes the rights of smokers (away) when they’re the patrons and spend the most money,” she said.

The Bull Pen Café

Jackie Cockrell, owner of The Bull Pen Café on Business Loop 70 East, said she rarely hears complaints about smoke in her restaurant. She said many of her regulars come from out of town to have a meal, visit with friends and enjoy a smoke — or several. A lot of them come in early for breakfast then return for lunch. If they can no longer sit and have a cigarette, she fears many will cut back on their visits.

She anticipates a dramatic effect on her business. “As if you don’t already have enough bumps in the road,” she said.

Sake Japanese Bistro

Rob Chen, 33, owner of Sake Japanese Bistro on Tenth Street, took the initiative a year ago to limit smoking in his sushi bar.

“Since last year, the restaurant has gradually moved toward nonsmoking. We changed it to a no-smoking period until 10 o’clock,” he said.

Chen said it’s difficult in a place the size of Sake to segregate smoking and non-smoking sections. But he thinks smoking is a serious public health issue. “I think everyone, even smokers, enjoy dinner without smoke in their faces,” he said.

“The possibility of losing money in bar sales is a consideration, but I know people will come back because the experience of going out with family and friends is more important than being able to smoke,” he said. “Some of the best bars and clubs don’t allow smoking.”

Chen said over the weekend that he planned to meet with employees to discuss how to ensure compliance with the new law.

Night manager and bartender Vay Vong, 29, is a smoker. He said he plans to step outside for smoke breaks and to ask others to do the same if they light cigarettes. Although he plans to comply, he doesn’t like the ordinance.

“I don’t think it should be up to the city government at all,” he said. “But it doesn’t bother me that much because I don’t mind being in an establishment that is smoke-free.”

Campus Bar and Grill

It was a typical Saturday night at the Campus Bar and Grill at Ninth and Elm streets. On half the big-screen TVs, the Dallas Cowboys were duking it out with the Seattle Seahawks. On the other half, the MU men’s basketball team was battling Iowa State. At the bar, two college women oblivious to the broadcasts, used their right hands to send text messages and their left to smoke Parliament Lights. After burning a pack, they scuffled to another location.

While the moment seemed less than notable, it was the last Saturday night when smoking cigarettes would be legal inside Columbia bars.

Jason Robertson, 27, owner of the Campus Bar & Grill, said the hardest task will be to control violations of the ordinance at night, when the place gets crowded. He said the business will have to invest in security to catch customers who violate the ban.

The Smoker’s Club

If you are upset about the smoking ban but don’t know where or how to vent your anger (or cigarette smoke), there is a club for you. The Smoker’s Club is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of smokers’ rights and fighting against what it calls the “anti-smoker movement.” The club also publishes studies on secondhand smoke and smoking bans.

David Kuneman, of St. Louis, director of research for the Smoker’s Club, attended the October public hearing that preceded the Columbia City Council’s approval of the smoking ordinance. He was unhappy with the outcome.

“The Columbia City Council should have listened to the owners of bars and restaurants instead of the anti-smokers,” Kuneman said. “I doubt whether anyone in Columbia will be any healthier than they were last year. But some people’s incomes will fall.”

Kuneman predicts the ordinance will hurt the city’s economy. Any health benefits will be outdone, he said, by increases in poverty.

“I call on the Columbia City Council to refund the property taxes of any bar or restaurant that can show that their revenue is lower than it was last year,” he said. “If that’s not enough, then the local sales tax can be collected, too.”

— Missourian reporters Adam Wisneski, Alex Cooney, Sheila Johnson, Esther Cho, Yulia Medvedeva, Uthayla Abdullah, Hyun-Jee Oh, Laura N. Mazuch, Nan Wu, Allisan McGee, Jessica Becker, Amanda Wilson, Elizabeth Langton and Emily Freeman contributed to this report.


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