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Kay and Will Woller have dinner with Greg and Whitney Clemons at The Brick. The couples said the only reason they came to The Brick was that smoking was banned.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Kay and Will Woller have dinner with Greg and Whitney Clemons at The Brick. The couples said the only reason they came to The Brick was that smoking was banned.

Smoking ordinance’s first week
No place to puff
Restaurant, bar customers have differing opinions about smoking ban

By Evan Belanger
evanb@decaturdaily.com · 340-2442

Like Decatur’s new ban on smoking in public places? Don’t like it?

A Daily investigation into the matter this week found your opinion of the new law might be influenced by where you like to eat — or drink.

When questioning patrons at bars and restaurants this week, The Daily found a majority of daytime customers at restaurants like the new law.

Most said they enjoyed their experience more in a smoke-free environment where they can eat without smelling or breathing secondhand smoke. They also said they did not think the ordinance will hurt local businesses.

But at bars and restaurants that sell mostly alcohol at night, most customers said the ordinance needs to go, and that it’s adversely impacting business.

The Daily also found a lesser correlation between age groups, with more people younger than 30 saying they were against the ordinance and more people older than 30 saying they supported it.

Whatever their opinions, the new law is bringing drastic changes to businesses around the city.

Restaurants

At Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant, three out of four customers questioned by The Daily at lunchtime said they preferred the smoke-free environment, in an unscientific straw poll.

“I’m delighted with the ordinance for health reasons,” said Kathy Clark. “I think we should all be more concerned about the health of our fellow citizens.”

Clark’s comment was seconded by Charles McAlpine, who quit smoking more than 38 years ago for religious reasons.

McAlpine ate at a smoke-free Cracker Barrel for the first time in his life on Wednesday.

No-smoking signs at the Cracker Barrel.
Daily photo by Evan Belanger
No-smoking signs at the Cracker Barrel.
He said he supported the ordinance and was proud of the City Council for stepping up actions to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke.

“I asked them when I came outside if I had to have a pack of cigarettes to come out here, but they said no,” McAlpine said, joking about patrons who now head for the door when they want to light up.

Before the ordinance took effect Monday, Cracker Barrel’s smoking section was separated only by a thin piece of latticework.

The story was similar at other restaurants around the city.

At Logan’s Roadhouse, kitchen manager Jeff Robison said running a smoke-free restaurant felt a little different, but the change did not seem to be impacting business.

“As long as the beer is cold, they’ll be here,” he said.

But not all saw it that way.

While leaving Cracker Barrel, Nubria Costillo predicted the ordinance will hurt businesses around the city, likely leading to layoffs.

“If you have asthma, then don’t go places where people smoke,” she said. “If you have a problem with the smell, then don’t go out at all.”

Bars

Public opinion of the ordinance shifted greatly when nighttime customers were questioned at local bars and restaurants that sell more alcohol than food.

Nearly all bar patrons questioned by The Daily at night said they didn’t like the ordinance. They also said they noticed crowds had been much lighter since the ordinance took effect.

“I guess I can understand the ban in a restaurant, but not in bar like this. There’s usually a lot more people here,” said Justin Wagnon, a customer at the Brick Deli and Tavern on Thursday night.

“I don’t even smoke, and I don’t like it,” said an unidentified friend of Wagnon’s.

According to Belle Hallmark, an employee at The Brick, the ordinance brought on a sharp decline in business. She said lunchtime crowds appear unfazed, but estimated nighttime business had dropped by about 50 percent since the ordinance was enacted.

On Wednesday, she said, business was so slow that a scheduled band stopped playing more than an hour early because there were too few people left to play for.

Wednesday is typically one of The Brick’s busiest nights, she said.

The story was similar at other Decatur bars, where owners, employees and customers reported lighter-than-normal crowds.

The ordinance, which bans smoking in all public places, was enacted with a splash Monday.

3 fight the ban

While most Decatur business owners were posting no-smoking signs and removing ashtrays, three bar owners decided to fight the ban.

They filed a restraining order against city officials shortly before the law took effect. According the judge’s order, smoking can continue in those establishments — Frontier Entertainment, Nash Bar and Grill, and TK’s Bar — at least until an Oct. 17 hearing.

Passed in a 3-2 City Council decision Aug. 6, the ordinance prohibits smoking in all public places, including bars, restaurants, bingo halls, bowling alleys, office buildings, churches and just about any other enclosed public space.

It requires property owners to remove all smoking paraphernalia from their buildings and to post no-smoking signs at each entrance. Those who violate the ordinance — smokers or business owners who continue allowing smoking — face fines of up to $500 per violation.

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