Smoking ban in Southwest: a six-week checkup

Since Minneapolis' smoking ban went into effect March 31, supporters and critics in the Southwest business community have had a chance to test their hypotheses about business after the ban.

To his surprise, an originally pessimistic Christian Johnson, a smoker and owner of The Spyhouse Espresso Bar and Gallery, 2451 Nicollet Ave. said he's seen a dramatic increase in business so far.

"I didn't even realize how many people don't like smoke. It's ridiculous how many customers we've had," he said. "Our sales jumped 14 percent. We noticed new customers the first day."

(Johnson said that despite his new customers, he still does not agree with the government regulation.)

While Johnson revels in new revenues, others, such as Khosrow Daivari, owner of the Leaning Tower of Pizza Restaurant, 2324 Lyndale Ave. S. said business has been off substantially in the weeks following the ban.

Daivari said he's seen a 10 to 20 percent drop in his business and has had to cut staff hours.

"I don't think it's going to bounce back," he said.

Daivari said people who projected an influx of new customers after the ban took effect were wrong. "Nobody shows up," he said.

Is business gone, like a puff of smoke?

Shelly Rogers, a manager at the Uptown Bar, 3018 Hennepin Ave. S., said her business has remain unchanged with the ban - except for more frequent visits from families.

Sharon Emard, co-owner of the CC Club with her husband Moe Emard, said that during the few weeks after the smoking ban - before a new outdoor deck was finished - business was "real slow."

Since the 2600 Lyndale Ave. S. club's deck opened April 15, she said business has rebounded. Sharon Emard said it's still down a bit during the day, but that's because people don't know the deck is now open (it's behind the bar along West 26th Street). The Emards have also added sidewalk seating along Lyndale for smoking customers.

Moe Emard said these changes have been time-consuming and expensive but declined to give a figure.

To help the CC Club's deck attract customers through the winter, Moe Emard said he's continuing to add amenities including new lights, permanent outdoor heaters and three TVs. Also, to calm neighborhood concerns about littering, he's added security cameras so staff can monitor customers' outdoor behavior.

To celebrate the new deck and the CC Club's 20th anniversary, the Emards plan a June 11 party where they'll feature 1985 pricing on beer and food.

Val Soberg, general manager at Lyle's Bar and Restaurant, 2021 Hennepin Ave. S., said their business is slow, but is not sure what to attribute it to. "It's hard for us to tell," she said. "It's always slow this time of year."

Lyle's, unlike many businesses, has no place to expand outdoors - the sidewalk isn't big enough and they need the parking in back. Inside, Soberg said the ban's effects are noticeable. "It's just a little cleaner," she said. "It's still fun, even without the smoke."

In a strange way, Soberg said the ban has actually helped socializing. Smokers "like standing outside [to smoke] because they meet more people," she said.

Less smoke, more customers

While the owners of the CC Club are working hard to try and retain their smoking clientele, other businesses have seen a spike in patronage without doing much.

"It's been great for us," said Chad Jamrozy, co-owner of the Herkimer Pub and Brewery, 2922 Lyndale Ave. S.

Jamrozy said that their sales are up by double digits and food sales are up from last year, too.

"[Smokers] want something to do with their hands, so they eat," he said.

Jolane Dahlheimer, owner of Plan B Coffeehouse, 2717 Hennepin Ave. S., said postban business has also risen at her Wedge-based coffeehouse. "Actually, we've noticed a pretty big increase," she said. "I can't tell if it's the nice weather [or the smoking ban]."

Jamrozy said at Herkimer - which has ample outdoor seating along Lyndale Avenue - the warmer April weather helped ease the transition, and he's also worked to accommodate smoking customers by adding ashtrays at both building entrances.

Dahlheimer said she thinks that with her coffeehouse - traditionally somewhat smoky - the key to making the transition to nonsmoking has been her outdoor seating. She recently expanded the deck behind her business to include two picnic tables and hopes to add on again to accommodate smoking customers.

Like Dahlheimer, Russ Anderson, general manager of Cintia's of Mexico Restaurant and Bar, 6042 Nicollet Ave. and the Tailgate Sports Caf, 6050 Nicollet Ave., said he expanded patio areas in preparation for the ban.

However, Anderson said he's noticed little difference in business since the smoking ban went into effect. Anderson said the Windom-based restaurants expected a 14-15 percent drop in business with the ban, but so far it hasn't materialized. "We see a lot more kids and families," Anderson said, adding that telling customers about the patio plans was helpful.

Daivari, who also owns a Second Leaning Tower restaurant on University Avenue, said he thinks the reason businesses such as Leaning Tower are hurting, while others are thriving is because his places is a neighborhood hangout - not a place customers visit quickly and leave.

He said although both locations aren't doing well after the smoking ban, his University location is hurting more than the Lyndale Avenue restaurant. Daivari said many of his customers at the University restaurant have gone across Highway 280, into St. Paul where smoking is permitted.

He predicts that the winter months will be the toughest and serve as the true test of business survival in the smoking-ban era.

Daivari said he's already looking at outdoor heaters for his sidewalk seating, and until then he'll continue to brainstorm ideas to help keep his businesses afloat. Of the ban he said, "Overall, maybe people think it's is good, but the adverse effect of it is more than the health benefit."