Smoking ban concerns local businesses

Sarah Blackwell.
Clayton was the second St. Louis County municipality to pass an indoor smoking ban. (Sarah Blackwell)

In the United States, 27 states have enacted statewide smoking bans in all enclosed public places. Although this list does not contain Missouri more and more cities within the state, including Clayton, are beginning to issue bans.

Clayton was the second St. Louis County municipality to ban indoor smoking, following Ballwin. The ban went into effect July 2010; one year after the city council met and decided to issue it.

Although the law was passed unanimously among the board members, it did not gain popular approval from everyone.

Bill Hannegan from Keep St. Louis Free, an organization that “fights to protect the personal freedoms and property rights of St. Louisans”, was a leader in the fight against the Clayton smoking ban. Hannegan began working against the smoking ban after a group of Clayton restaurant owners turned to him for assistance out of fear that a smoking band would significantly affect their business

“When the ban first went into effect other cities around Clayton did not have a smoking ban,” Hannegan said. “And so the Clayton restaurants were very afraid that they would be at a disadvantage with other venues and that they might go out of business.”

Five months into the smoking ban, some restaurants are already beginning to feel the economic results of the ban.

“I think the bar business in Clayton has been hurt,” Hannegan said. “I don’t know if food sales have been hurt, but I definitely think the bar aspect of restaurants in Clayton has been down and owners have told me that it’s been down.”

Molly Darcy’s pub in downtown Clayton has seen a decrease in customers after the smoking ban, but founder Carl Winters hopes this is only temporary.

“We have seen many of our regular happy hour drinkers leave the pub for bars in surrounding communities where smoking is still allowed,” Winters said. “We are hopeful they will return when the county wide ban goes into effect… Financially we have experienced no positive effects.”

One of the main reasons for the financial problems that restaurants are experiencing is the isolation of the Clayton smoking ban. Clayton is the one of the few cities in the area that has a ban, drawing customers away.

“Had Clayton officials showed some patience and implemented the ban in conjunction with the countywide ban,” Winters said. “You would not have seen the exodus of smokers from Clayton establishments.”

Not all restaurants blame the recent smoking ban for bad business. The nationwide economic downturn is also a major contributor.

“It is tough to gauge exactly how much the smoking ban has impacted business at Miso because of the fact that the bar is typically slower in the summer,” Brad Beracha founder of Miso Lounge and Araka Restaurant in Clayton said. “And the economy continues to drag.”

Although the smoking ban has been in effect for five months, some restaurants have not noticed much of a difference from their clients or received any opinions, either positive or negative, in regards to the affects of the ban.

“It seems like Clayton as a whole is down and again it is tough to pinpoint the culprit,” Beracha said. “My guess is that it is more economy driven than not.  We have seen our bar business increase since the weather has turned, which is typically what happens, but I have really not gotten any good, bad, or indifferent feedback about the fact that smoking is no longer allowed in restaurants.”

Students are among those restaurant customers who have not really noticed a change as a result of the ban.

“I haven’t noticed much of a difference in Clayton restaurants since the smoking ban has gone into effect,” sophomore Alex Watkins said. “In the past, before the ban, people were courteous and went outside when they wanted to smoke, so there hasn’t been much of a change.”

Although Clayton is somewhat of an island with regard to smoking bans, more and more cities are following by passing smoking bans. A countywide ban will come into effect on January 1, 2011.

“Clayton kind of kicked things off,” Hannegan said. “And they got a sort of domino effect going. That was the intention. I don’t think the Alderman in Clayton had any attention of putting a smoking ban on Clayton alone. I think they thought that they were stirring the pot, getting things going.”

Despite the disadvantage that many bars and restaurants gained from the smoking ban, some establishments are trying to adhere to the new law and work around it.

“We are trying to appeal to both sides of our clientele base,” Winters said. “We are promoting a smoke free food and beverage environment inside the pub to attract those consumers who rate this as important. Also we promote cigar friendly events in our courtyard, where smoking is legal. There is a strong interest from many Clayton area consumers in fine cigars and specialty liquors.”

Although many bars and restaurants in Clayton have seen an economic downturn since the smoking ban was passed, the ban is not the only factor in their financial problems.

“I just feel that there are so many factors working against the bar business right now that to only point a finger at the smoking ban, would be short-sighted,” Beracha said.