Southwest smokers’ hangouts head to the great outdoors

At 12:01 a.m. March 31, public life in Minneapolis changed dramatically when the smoking ban went into effect. Gone are the days of coming home smelling like an ashtray.

With smoking now banned citywide in bars, restaurants, coffeehouses and bowling alleys, the only place to smoke is outside.

While some customers and waitstaff fume about lost freedom and lost income, many Southwest businesses are investing in infrastructure to accommodate smoking customers to keep them coming back.

Businesses change for the smoking ban

Owners of the CC Club, 2600 Lyndale Ave. S., one of Southwest’s oldest hangouts with arguably the smokiest clientele, have prepared for the ban for months, since the city approved it last July.

CC Club owners Sharon and Moe Emard said they quickly secured sidewalk seating and built an outdoor deck to accommodate their smoking customers.

Sharon Emard said the smoking ban is spurring changes in her own smoking habits, too. "I just quit smoking because of it – kind of," she said. "I’m trying to quit for good."

Whittier resident Christian Johnson, owner of Spyhouse Espresso Bar and Gallery, 2451 Nicollet Ave., said he was mad about the ban at first but has come to accept it. Like Emard, Johnson said he plans to quit smoking soon, setting an Oct. 1 goal.

He’s not insisting his customers do the same. He’s adding a few sets of double doors along his West 25th Street frontage, which can open onto sidewalk seating. Johnson said he would also add sidewalk seating on the Nicollet Avenue side.

He already had a sidewalk-seating permit for both places but only used the 25th Street side because it was all he needed and that staff could monitor.

Johnson said because Spyhouse has a lot of to-go business, he doesn’t think the smoking ban will be a problem – but wanted to make the changes so he wouldn’t alienate smokers.

Unlike Johnson, Tom Hanson, owner of Fuji Ya, 600 W. Lake St., has long supported a smoking ban and even sanctioned Saturday smoke-free nights before the ban. He said the self-imposed ban boosted his business 10 percent on that night. "It’s been totally successful," Hanson said.

Still, he said he creating a small "smoking park" with benches and ashtrays near the restaurant entrance. He hasn’t decided whether smoking will still be allowed on an outdoor patio.

Although Hanson is calm in the face of the smoking ban, many restaurant and bar workers – some customers – fret about what the ban means for them.

The critics

Mary, a server at the Leaning Tower of Pizza who declined to give her last name, said in the 2324 Lyndale Ave. S. bar and restaurant has a mostly smoking clientele.

Although she’s a nonsmoker, Mary said she’s mad about the ban because it will hurt her pocketbook; she predicts business will drop.

Leaning Tower customer Marcia Smith, a smoker, agreed. "The waitresses and waiters are going to lose a lot of money" because of the ban, she said. "Smokers are the best tippers."

The CC Club’s Emard said her staff and customers are also smoldering. "A lot of them are upset because nobody had a chance to vote on it," she said.

At Bob’s Java Hut, 2651 Lyndale Ave. S., employee Meena Iyer said she thinks business at the Whittier biker hangout will suffer. "It’s a motorcycle coffee shop," she said gesturing to the biker culture oozing from the interior.

As the opinions about the smoking ban vary from establishment to establishment, customers too seem torn about the issue – whether they smoke or not.

At Westrum’s Tavern, 4415 Nicollet Ave., customers think the ban will fall more harshly on neighborhood hangouts such as theirs.

Diane Terres of Kingfield said, "It will hurt these small businesses," adding that large restaurants like those in Uptown won’t feel the effects as harshly.

Nicole Sullivan, a Leaning Tower customer and nonsmoker, worries about the ban for social reasons because many of her friends are smokers and she thinks she’ll see them less. "I’m afraid they’re not going to go out anymore," she said.

Bob’s Java Hut customer and smoker Michael Eblen spoke to Sullivan’s fears. "[The ban is] an excuse for not going anywhere," he said, adding that he’s been a life-long smoker.

Still, Sullivan, said she is glad about the ban, because she doesn’t like going to bars and having her clothes smell. "That part I hate – the stinky part," she said.

Eblen, who said he’s noticed the decline in smokers throughout the past decade, said ultimately he thinks the ban will be a good thing. "It will help me stop [smoking]," he said.