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Published: Friday, 12/22/2006

Smokeless bar won't blame ban for empty tables

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Owner Mark Clark and bartender Shannon Russell have seen business fall off at Andy's Bar and Grill since the smoking ban. Owner Mark Clark and bartender Shannon Russell have seen business fall off at Andy's Bar and Grill since the smoking ban.
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It's 3:30 p.m., and Andy's Bar and Grill in Perrysburg Township has one employee for every customer.

Of course, there are only two customers.

"I've made 7 cents. I had one table since noon," said Kristy Day, the Northwood woman waiting tables in the four-month-old restaurant/bar.

"It's funny; it's usually hard to find a seat," said Jeff Purvis, who just got out of work at a Toledo Post Office. "But when I walked in, it was just these two [employees] listening to music."

Andy's Bar and Grill, Oregon Road and State Rt. 795, is one of a handful of places with a bar that decided to ban smoking Dec. 7, when the state's new smoking law went into effect.

"We are abiding by the law," said Mark Clark, who invested $75,000 and opened Andy's in September.

"I never ever contemplated going against the law. I guess I'm a little surprised to hear other places are not abiding by the law."

But Mr. Clark doesn't want to be viewed as a victim or a complainer.

In fact, he said, in the first six days after the ban went into effect, the economic impact on his bar was neutral, and he speculates that the holidays may be keeping his the bar crowd occupied elsewhere.

But it hasn't been neutral on Ms. Day's income.

"I've had two tables each day. The week before, I would average 30 bucks a day," she said.

Brad Espen, Wood County's acting health commissioner and director of environmental health, said he finds Mr. Clark's predicament frustrating.

"The owners out there that are trying to comply, they're losing customers. A lot of my frustration lies with the Ohio Department of Health. Everything should have been in place ahead of time to create a level playing field."

The state issued draft regulations this week, which the public can comment on until Jan. 11. The complete draft is available at www.odh.state.oh.us.

The draft establishes penalties for violations of the smoking ban, including warning letters for first violations by businesses or individuals.

Business fines begin at $100 for second violation, and top out at $2,500 for fifth and subsequent violations. Individuals can be fined $100 for second and subsequent violations.

The draft delegates enforcement authority to county health departments, and allows those departments to delegate to other government entities with enforcement authority.

When Mr. Clark opened Andy's, he knew a smoking ban was on the ballot but he wasn't worried. He figured the law would pass and people would abide by it, or it would fail and that would be that. What he hadn't anticipated was what developed: The law would pass and it would be widely ignored.

The state has received an average of 465 calls a day reporting businesses that allow smoking since the law went into effect Dec. 7. It's received nearly 2,400 of the calls from the 419 area code - some for information only, some complaining about businesses allowing smoking.

But Mr. Clark isn't about to lodge a complaint against anyone. "I'm not whining or complaining. We have an issue. We have a law. I'm just adding my 2 cents worth."

Besides, he said, "I have a lot of sympathy for those guys on Alexis Road close to the [state] line."

In the meantime, the bartender at Andy's, Shannon Russell of Toledo, wishes customers would accept the reality that they're a smoke-free bar. "I'm tired of hearing, 'Bring me out an ashtray,'•" she said. "They're in here every day. They know we won't do it. Quit asking."

Contact Jenni Laidman at:

jenni@theblade.com

or 419-724-6507.



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