Smoking ban hurts College Avenue businesses

Doris Kim

Business losses in local bars and restaurants have been striking since the instatement of a citywide smoking ban July 1. For some on College Avenue, even staying open has become a struggle – only thirteen weeks since the ban went into effect. With patrons no longer permitted to smoke in these establishments, the consequent drop in revenue is undeniable. The dramatic negative effect on local business income has forced Appleton’s citizens to rethink the smoking ordinance. This ban was on the ballot of the last public election in April 2005, in which a large majority voted in favor of it. But the damages have compelled local businesses to collect thousands of signatures to demand a revote.
Appleton’s local Clean Air Works organization brought the ordinance to public attention last year, after it was originally voted down in the city’s common council. Clean Air Works is a national organization calling for smoke-free work environments for the safety of the workers’ health. By collecting a sufficient amount of signatures in favor of the ordinance, – more than 15% of the number of votes in the last governor election – the ordinance was secured through direct legislation on the ballot. The smoking ban in all local bars and restaurants has been in effect since July 1.
“The ordinance was overwhelmingly approved, said Kurt Eggebrecht, a health officer for the Appleton Health Department. “There was a lot of concern about the consequences it would have on businesses, but there were two public hearings on the matter and one independent hearing before the election, held to discuss these concerns.”
Bars – especially on College Avenue – have not been as accepting of the smoking ordinance. Dr. Jekyll’s, a bar frequented by many Lawrence students, has lost 30% of business since the ordinance has been in effect, with a gross loss of $24,000. Using the same direct legislation that brought the smoking ordinance to the public election, bars and restaurants have been urging their customers to sign for a revote. Dr. Jekyll’s itself received more than 5,000 signatures in relatively short time.
“More than 20 bars are listed in the litigation in the lawsuits filed, stating the adopted legislation was not permitted under state statutes,” said Assistant City Attorney Chris Behrens.
While the intent of the smoking ordinance was to protect workers in their work environment as well as the patrons’ well being, not all employees or customers have received the ban willingly.
“My employees are not happy with this smoking ban,” said Jekyll’s owner Ron Teske. “Many of them are smokers themselves. They took the job here knowing there would be smoking, and they knew they could smoke behind the bar when they wanted. Now they have to go outside whenever they have a free moment.”
“People that went into bars realized that they would be amongst smokers,” commented Lawrence student Olia Shapel. “But now, if you walk down College Avenue at night, you have no choice but to walk through clouds of smoke from people smoking outside the bars.”
This new strong and adamant public voice against the smoking ban and the thousands of signatures in favor of a revote cannot be ignored. An election will take place for citizens to vote on the issue, but the question remains when that will be. While local bars have been fighting to get a special separate election – to be held sooner than the next public election held in April – the city council has remained hesitant since it would cost $30,000 of taxpayers’ money.
“At the rate of these losses, many of College Avenue’s nice little bars will be gone,” said Teske. “We cannot wait. We want an election in December. Otherwise, the bars may not be around. And even if the vote were to go in our favor, it may be more than 6 months before we start seeing more realistic numbers.”
The issue is to be brought to the Appleton City Council at a public hearing this week.