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Published: Sunday, 9/5/2004

Businesses adjust to year-old smoke ban

Easystreet Cafe co-owner Jamie Church has come up with a unique model to accommodate both smoking and nonsmoking patrons. Easystreet Cafe co-owner Jamie Church has come up with a unique model to accommodate both smoking and nonsmoking patrons.

With Toledo's smoking ban reaching its one-year anniversary after surviving numerous court challenges, many bars and restaurants are grudgingly investing dollars, floor space, and ideas into adapting to the new law - and trying to keep their smoking patrons happy at the same time.

No matter how costly, contrived, or creative, city officials say the buck stops at their approval - and overall they're encouraged by the efforts, which they say have contributed to increased compliance rates during recent summer months.

"It's what you do to try to stay in business. You find a way," said Bob Tucker, owner of Tucker's, a small bar on Consaul Street in East Toledo.

The city recently granted Mr. Tucker an exemption to the smoking ban after he closed off a good quarter of his bar's seating area with plywood fencing, leaving a space the size of two parked cars.

Now Tucker's is even tinier: just under the 245 square-foot maximum needed for exemption under the law as a so-called "hole-in-the-wall" bar.

Julie Love and Cheryl Jiannuzzi, co-managers of the Center Court Lounge on Heatherdowns Boulevard, have gone totally table-less, halving their seating area with a similar wooden partition and leaving just 19 bar stools to sit on.

With the Maumee city line just across the street, they said they had no choice but to reduce the size of their establishment to qualify as a smoking bar. And how have the bar's regulars liked the cramped quarters?

"Lunch times are not so good; business women don't like to sit on a bar stool to eat. But our regulars are kinda getting used to it. They know this is the way it's going to be," Ms. Jiannuzzi said.

Toledo's Clean Indoor Air Ordinance, which went into effect in August, 2003, and was fully enforced in January, bans smoking in restaurants and bars, with some exceptions.

Karen Granata, chief of air services for Toledo's Environmental Services Division - the woman ultimately responsible for making sure the law is enforced - said that enforcement-wise, "The summer months have been excellent." Especially in August, she said, where inspectors found 42 out of 45 bars and restaurants to be in compliance with the ordinance.

Part of that is because of investments by bar and restaurant owners that allow patrons to smoke in accordance with the law.

In addition to shrinking their service areas, bars and restaurants still may serve smoking patrons outdoors or designate up to 30 percent of their indoor service areas as a smoking section, or "lounge," which must be separately ventilated, fully sealed, and out of the way of where nonsmoking patrons would think to tread.

A sign outside Krieger's Pub on Laskey Road urges passers-by to take a stand against the existing Toledo smoking law and vote for a less-restrictive measure in November. A sign outside Krieger's Pub on Laskey Road urges passers-by to take a stand against the existing Toledo smoking law and vote for a less-restrictive measure in November.

Owners of smaller establishments say it is very hard for them to split their limited service areas with a sealed partition, leaving them with the option of either building an expensive indoor smoking lounge, or taking the outdoor approach - which may be difficult to maintain when temperatures drop.

One example of the outdoor approach that may weather the winter months is being tried by Dean Anderson, owner of the Hi Level Cafe on Summit St., who said his diner's too small for a separate smoking lounge.

Mr. Anderson brought window trays out of his basement so that patrons arriving at his establishment can eat - and smoke - in their cars.

Though the effort has gone on two weeks, "It hasn't really been kicking yet," Mr. Anderson said. "But I'll go with this at least until November. I'm still hopeful." He's also trying a few tricks: Getting custom car clubs to use his diner for a stopping place to attract attention and getting a band to do a "party in the parking lot" for a weekend or two.

For larger establishments, the easiest way to comply with the ordinance without going smoke-free is to build a smoking lounge or outdoor patio.

Anything to make it work, he said.

So far, 73 bars and restaurants in Toledo - out of more than 300 - have constructed smoking areas that have been approved by the city's Environmental Services Division.

One of the largest such smoking lounges is within Jed's Barbeque & Brew at Heatherdowns and Reynolds Road.

The glassed-in room holds the largest bar in the establishment and sits in a prime location: All the bar's front windows are enclosed in the lounge, which is close enough to the front door to be noticed immediately by entering patrons.

"That room was a huge success. Our smoking customers are really happy," said Ken Pompora, owner of Jed's, who was on the task force that helped to write the city's smoking ordinance. But he is quick to add that the lounge cost him about $100,000, including utilities and ventilation.

And when asked whether he expects any return on that investment in the form of nonsmoking patrons, Mr. Pompora gets heated.

"Absolutely not," he said. "It's just a retention of business that would have been lost to Maumee," the border of which is just miles away.

Other bar and restaurant owners say they are taking steps to create smoking lounges but are holding off on making any costly investments until November - when a revised and less restrictive smoking ban allowing smoking in bars and in more restaurants will be put before voters.

Despite a no-smoking sign, Krieger's Pub has claimed club status by posting a sign that the business is closed to the public. Despite a no-smoking sign, Krieger's Pub has claimed club status by posting a sign that the business is closed to the public.

"I'm doing it little by little," said Hameed Kahala, owner of Rambo's on Knapp Street, looking over a back room of his bar that is being cleaned and painted in preparation for conversion into a smoking room. Since the ban's been in effect, he's built an outdoor patio at an expense of $10,000, he said, "But I'm holding off on buying a ventilation machine for the smoking room until the vote."

The machine may be costly, but if the vote fails and he's left with just the patio, "I'll be in big trouble by winter," Mr. Kahala said.

Several other bars and restaurants around the city have constructed outdoor patios: Chuck's on Monroe Street, Anchor Inn on Suder Avenue, Pat & Dandy's on Laskey Road, Good Times on Jackman Road, to name a few. Some have installed fireplaces and heaters to ready themselves for winter.

Chuck Cassis, owner of Chuck's, said he tried heating his patio last winter, "and even with the heater and the fireplace, it's still pretty cold out there."

Other establishments are taking less conventional approaches toward splitting up their service areas.

In the labyrinthine Easystreet Caf downtown, co-owner Jamie Church has come up with a unique model to accommodate both smoking and nonsmoking patrons: two separate entrances, one for smokers, one for nonsmokers.

After spending about $25,000 to freshen up a second entrance, create a separate ventilation system for both areas, and post large signs pointing patrons toward their ingress of choice, Ms. Church believes she is in full compliance with the law, though she has yet to get approved by the city.

"It was hard getting used to, having someone watch the other [nonsmoking] door - especially during the slow times. But now it's routine," said Jay Hathaway, bar manager at Easystreet.

"Actually, I think our smoking business is even better than before," Mr. Hathaway said.

Still, like Mr. Tucker, Ms. Church had to shut down a portion of her service area: The bar's wood-paneled basement, caught between the two separate service areas, now sits closed to the public.

"I don't want to sound like a crybaby," Ms. Church said. "It would be so great if we could use it, but nonsmokers can't get to it without walking through the smoking section, and keeping it smoking would put that area over 30 percent square footage," which the law prohibits.

"Those particular businesses that have constructed smoking lounges have made a major investment," city Law Director Barb Herring said. "We're trying to work with them as best we can because they are making an effort to comply with the law.

"But there's a very small minority who are not," she added.

Ms. Herring's ire seems especially centered on several bars and restaurants where patrons sign in at the door in support of a particular charity or organization, thus claiming membership in private social clubs, where smoking is allowed according to the city's smoking ordinance.

Those that draw near to the front doors of Krieger's Pub on Laskey Road, The Distillery on Heatherdowns, or Delaney's Lounge on Alexis Road encounter a sign saying the bar is closed to the public, though it is open for a private social function for those in agreement with Citizens for Common Sense - the group of bar owners supporting the Nov. 2 ballot issue, which would put in place a less-restrictive smoking ban.

The sign is sometimes posted next to nonsmoking signs required by city regulators.

Julie Ketterman, manager of The Distillery, maintains that those who enter her establishment essentially become supporters of a Political Action Committee in support of Citizens for Common Sense by signing their name at the door.

"In order to be in here, you essentially have to be a member of our PAC. By signing when you come in, you say you hold similar political views," Ms. Ketterman said.

The Toledo Municipal Court has thus far been unkind to bar owners when it comes to such methods.

In July, Judge C. Allen McConnell ruled against such private gatherings - but said he might reconsider if a phone number for the charity or organization were clearly posted and if a member of the organization were on-site.

The bar owners have since done so, but Ms. Herring said in her opinion that still doesn't conform with the spirit of the law.

"The issue is, is the bar open to the public or isn't it?" Ms. Herring said. "The court has always seen them as in reality being open to the public."

Ms. Granata, in charge of enforcement, agreed.

Bill Delaney, owner of Delaney's, said he's been apprised of the city's opinion: He's been cited 18 times in all, including several times since Judge McConnell's decision.

Contact Tad Vezner at: tvezner@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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