A group of bars and restaurants has joined with the Boone Liberty Coalition to repeal the ordinance that bans smoking in many public places, claiming the measures have had a significant economic impact on their businesses and that the decision to allow smoking should be up to them.
“It has affected my livelihood,” said Joel Thiel, owner of Otto’s Corner Bar and Grill at the corner of Eighth and Walnut streets. “In the past month, we’ve seen our Monday through Thursday night numbers drop by half.”
Jackie Cockrell, owner of the Bull Pen Cafe, said her business has been hurt because patrons have started going to nearby bars outside the city limits.
“I feel like it’s just not fair for them to walk in here and do this to us because this is our bread and butter,” Cockrell said.
The Boone Liberty Coalition, which formed to fight the ordinance’s initial passage and is leading the fight to repeal it, is relying on the businesses to collect the 2,265 votes needed by March 30.
If they collect the necessary number of signatures, the council will have two options: to immediately vote to repeal the smoking ban or to let the petition sit for 30 days. After 30 days, the ordinance would be put to a public vote in the city’s next general election.
The smoking ban was passed by the City Council by a 4-3 vote on Oct. 9 and it took effect on Jan. 9.
Gary Kespohl, who is running for the Third Ward council seat to be vacated by Bob Hutton, said that because the ordinance is so controversial, he would probably like to see it put to a public vote. Doing so, he said, would give the businesses, council and patrons until November to decide.
“I think they ought to give (the ordinance) a chance,” Kespohl said. “In the cities where they have passed this ordinance and enforce it, it takes about 6 or 8 months for people to really get used to it. I think the customers will come back to those places.”
He also said it’s too early to make judgments on the ban’s business impact.
“(Business owners) need to give this a chance I think,” he said. “With the weather like it’s been, a lot of people aren’t getting out at night. And I think that’s down-turned that business somewhat. And maybe they should hold off on passing judgment on this until the weather clears up a little bit ... And I don’t know that’s the reason, but I bet it adds to the downturn.”
Kespohl said he understood arguments on both sides and that it’s a difficult balance between civil liberties and the public health. He said he’d have to hear more information before making a solid decision.
Business owners insist the ordinance is an infringement on their rights as private property owners and business operators.
“Our city council — four out of seven — decided for thousands of people what’s good for them,” Thiel said. “I’m paying the bills, trying to make a living.”
And while some of the council’s concerns when passing the ban focused on the health of employees, bar and restaurant owners said Thursday that the ordinance is having a detrimental effect on workers in another form: money.
“The sales are lower, what your employees will take home in tips now has become even lower,” Thiel said.
The Boone Liberty Coalition is trying to collect data from individual bars and restaurants in order to show the economic impact of the ordinance. Schultz said the numbers will not be given to the City Council in their entirety, but will be analyzed by an economist in their group and presented as a whole.