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Published: Tuesday, 1/20/2004

Bars form charity; patrons light up


Several Toledo tavern owners have created a private club that they say will allow their premises to be exempt from the city s smoking ban.

City officials, however, are not conceding that the organization meets the city law s definition of a private club.

The “Taverns for Tots” charity would benefit children, with the money coming from a one-dollar fee bar patrons pay to join. An afternoon or evening sitting at the bar is a “membership social event” under the rules of this club.

“The events will be social gatherings, gatherings of people, basically just with fun in mind,” said Steven Hales, an attorney who is filing the paperwork to make Taverns for Tots a formal nonprofit corporation.

The group already is operating - and patrons are smoking again. Signs declaring their participation have popped up at several bars around the city, including Rusty s Jazz Cafe, 2202 Tedrow Rd.; Jerry & Ben s Retreat, 5347 North Detroit Ave.; the Bier Stube, 5333 Monroe St.; Rocky s, 3301 West Central Ave., and Delaney s Lounge, 309 West Alexis Rd.

Toledo s smoking ban - the toughest in the state because it applies to bars as well as restaurants - exempts private clubs and privately catered functions as long as the general public is not admitted.

The law sets criteria for a private club, including that it must have bylaws, a membership roster, and criteria for selecting members; holds elections; has premises controlled by the members, and is operated solely for the benefit and pleasure of its members.

City Law Director Barb Herring said the administration is serious about enforcing the smoking ban, but hasn t decided whether Taverns For Tots meets the law s definition of a private club.

“When it gets into operation we re going to have to look at it in comparison with the criteria established in the statute to find out if it s a legitimate organization or a sham organization to try to get around the ordinance by deception,” Ms. Herring said. “Once this group starts operating, that ll be happening very soon.”

Last night, one of about a dozen patrons at Rusty s said she didn t mind having to join Taverns For Tots if it meant being able to enjoy a smoke with her beer.

“This is close [to where I live], I m comfortable here, and I don t mind paying the buck,” said Amy Maxwell. She said she became a member of Taverns For Tots “mostly because you have to to come in.”

But customer Greg Garreau said he was disappointed at the development. A nonsmoker, Mr. Garreau said he thinks the smoking ban should be complied with strictly, as it was for a while after the smoking ban took effect on Aug. 24. He said he doesn t complain, but he has asked people not to smoke next to him when he has been in bars that allow smoking.

“It was just nice for a while when they did respect other people who didn t smoke,” Mr. Garreau said. “I don t see how it can be legal. I think it s a pretty cheap way of getting around it.”

A sign outside Rusty s states the bar is reserved for members of the club. Inside, the bartender greeted a newcomer last night by presenting two membership cards to be filled out in exchange for a dollar.

The sign in the window at Delaney s says: “This establishment has been turned over to Taverns For Tots for the day. Only those members may enter. If you would like to be a member - inquire within! Life-time membership - $1.”

Owner Bill Delaney yesterday acknowledged that he is participating, but declined to be interviewed about the effort.

The city soon may have its opportunity to challenge the club claim. Two inspectors, accompanied by three police officers, visited Delaney s Lounge on Tuesday and Thursday last week to check for illegal smokers.

A warning letter was issued after the Tuesday visit and a notice of violation is being prepared for delivery this week as a result of the Thursday inspection, city public information officer Mary Chris Skeldon said yesterday.

The law has two enforcement mechanisms: individuals who smoke illegally can be slapped with a $100 misdemeanor violation; and bar owners who illegally permit smoking must participate in costly and time-consuming tobacco education sessions, as well as a possible misdemeanor violation.

Mr. Hales said three directors have been named for the club and that officers will be elected. The directors so far are Mr. Hales; Royal Barber, owner of the Royal Barber & Co. accounting firm, and Kelly Pettit, identified as vice-president of Royal Barber & Co.

Accountants will collect and record the money raised by Taverns For Tots and then disburse it for economically disadvantaged children, either directly to benefit children who have been screened or to an agency benefiting children, Mr. Hales said.

He said the club has no full-time staff and very little overhead. Its “events” will be when members congregate in the bars that turn over their premises to the club.

“It s not the type of charity that s designed to make directors fat and happy,” Mr. Hales said.

The bars intend to contribute 1 percent of their gross receipts annually, in addition to all of the $1 membership fees, Mr. Hales said.

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