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Published: Thursday, 8/28/2003

Above the state line, smokers are welcome

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - Michelle Bork is thinking of sending the Toledo City Council a box of cigars.

And if the 12 august council members from south of the state line want to legally smoke them, well, hey, she says, “come on up.”

Across southern Monroe County last week, tavern, restaurant, and bar owners prepared for what they believe will be a migration of new customers to their respective establishments, all courtesy of a new ban on smoking in most public places in Toledo that went into effect Sunday.

“We've had a lot of people come in and check us out, saying that they need to find a new bar to hang out at,” explained Mrs. Bork, whose M.T. Loonies bar and grill opened for business along Lewis Avenue just four months ago. “We've had a [billiards] league from a bar in Toledo come and ask us to sponsor them already, and I expect a lot more smokers are going to be heading our way.”

There are more than a dozen bars, restaurants, and taverns just north of the state line that stand to benefit from an influx of smoking Toledo patrons over the next several months. But what remains to be seen is whether the migration - and all the accompanying smoke - will ultimately be good for business.

At the Erie Restaurant and Bar, owner Al Delrue said he doesn't think his business is going to go up or down because of Toledo's smoking ban. A former smoker, Mr. Delrue said his customers will continue to be able to smoke in his bar, but will remain prohibited from lighting up in his restaurant.

“I think smokers can go a short time without a cigarette,” so Ohio patrons will continue to patronize Ohio businesses, Mr. Delrue explained. “I sympathize with smokers. I used to be a smoker, but I don't like to sit next to a smoker when I'm eating. I used to smoke three packs a day, so I know that cigarette smoke stinks.”

Toledo's anti-smoking law passed in July and survived an attempt to force a referendum on the topic. It allows smoking only in bars and restaurants with separate, fully enclosed rooms no larger than 30 percent of their total serving space. The rooms must be separately ventilated and may not be the only access of non-smokers to bathrooms and exits.

Bars in Toledo have up to four months to construct their smoking lounges, and a person caught smoking illegally could be slapped with a $100 fine. Only about 30 percent of Toledo residents smoke.

Council member unanimously passed the anti-smoking ordinance largely as a workplace safety measure to protect employees at bars and restaurants from inhaling the smoke from patrons' cigarettes.

“You can't believe the calls I'm getting from girls looking for jobs,” said Donna Bugbee, manager of the Michigan Tavern, a Bedford Township landmark that's sat at the corner of Jackman and Smith roads for decades.

With just over a mile between the tavern and General Motors Toledo Hydramatic Plant, Ms. Bugbee said her phone was ringing off the hook last week as some bar and tavern owners south of the state line cut back on their staffing in response to what they believe will be slowing sales.

“Usually I have to beg to find people who want to work. But I bet I handed out eight applications today alone.”

Bob Pruden, the owner of Michigan Tavern, occupies a place at the very heart of the issue. While he anticipates a booming business in the coming months at his Bedford Township bar, things aren't looking too good at his Tribe's Tavern, which is at the corner of Alexis Road and Clover Lane in Toledo. “This is all we've talked about now for the last couple weeks,” said Mr. Pruden, who smokes and opposed Toledo's smoking ban even though one of his properties stands to gain from its implementation.



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