Smoking ban bitter cup for Westside bars
Owners: New law denies choice, hurts business
Owners or spokesmen for the five major Westside taverns expressed anger and dismay this week at the passage of Colorado House Bill 1175, which will disallow
smoking in establishments like theirs starting July 1.
“I definitely think it won't help us,” said Jim Bloom, owner of Bloom's Mill Hill Tavern, 1668 S. 21st St. “I've never smoked a cigarette in my life, but when they take choice away that's what I have a problem with.”
“I think they're going too far with personal rights,” agreed Kelly Gonyo, co-owner of Benny's Lounge, 517 W. Colorado Ave., also a non-smoker, in a separate interview. “I would think they'd leave it up to individual business owners, rather than putting the squeeze on mom-and-pops.”
Similar responses also came from Thunder & Buttons II, 2415 W. Colorado Ave.; Meadow Muffins, 2432 W. Colorado Ave.; and Laura Belle's, 734 N. 19th St.
“As an immigrant to this country, I always heard how America is so free, but you don't have any rights here anymore,” commented Steven Wiley, manager at Thunder & Buttons.
The votes in both the House and Senate essentially followed party lines, with Democrats mostly in favor and Republicans mostly opposed. The only Westside-area representative voting for the bill - called the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act by its supporters - was Democratic State Rep. Michael Merrifield, whose District 18 includes the older Westside, Manitou Springs and the downtown.
“I think any bill that promotes the health of Coloradans is a good bill,” h e said in a phone interview this week. “Those of us who don't smoke should not have to breathe the air of those who do.”
Merrifield said the law will also protect the health of non-smokers working in taverns. He doesn't agree with the premise that such people could choose to work elsewhere. “People work in bars because they need to have a job,” he said. “It's not that easy to find a job where you can support yourself or your family.”
He thinks the tavern owners' fate is not as bad as they may think, claiming there are statistics showing bars do better after the passage of smoking laws such as Colorado's new one. He believes he's not just speaking for himself in saying, “I'm really looking forward to becoming a customer at some of the really great neighborhood bars in Colorado Springs and Manitou when they become smoke-free. People who have not been customers before will feel it's a pleasant place to spend an evening.”
Izabela Podlecki, owner of Laura Belle's, 734 N. 19th St., questions whether that will be the case. “I lived in California when the smoking law went into effect there, and a lot of taverns lost customers,” she said. “I know we'll lose a lot, and I'm not very excited about it.”
Sens. Ed Jones (R-District 11) and McElhany (R-District 12) voted against the bill in the Senate vote of 19-15. Together, their districts take in all of the Westside, as well as outlying areas. State Rep. Keith King, whose district runs north and south of Merrifield's, voted no in the House's 38-24 vote.
Jones called the smoking law “nanny government… If you don't want to go in (to a business that allows smoking), don't go in.”
“To me, the issue is about personal property rights, and clearly this smoking ban acts to decrease private property rights in Colorado,” McElhany said.
“I believe that if people want to have their businesses allow smoking, that is a choice they can make themselves,” King commented. “While I do not smoke, as long as it is legal, people can make the appropriate choice concerning this issue.”
Partially in anticipation of the newly restrictive law, Gonyo and her partner, Garry Myers, have built a deck outside the Benny's back door. This is in keeping with the new law, which allows customers to go outside and smoke. But how much use the deck will get during winter months is uncertain, Gonyo and Myers said.
Thunder & Buttons also is expanding its second-floor deck - partly by taking away some square footage that's now enclosed. “If we're forced to abide by this law, we'll do this to accommodate our smokers,” Wiley said.
Podlecki is considering a smoking bench out in front of her bar. At least there is a roof overhang there to provide shelter, she said.
Meadow Muffins, which does not have such space options, Chad Jones, a long-time manager, pointed out. At the same time, it has a large smoking clientele. “We're one of the last places where smoking is allowed in the majority of the building,” he said, The law, he added, “is going to impact us drastically.”
One of the aspects of the bill that has been called hypcritical by opponents is the smoking exemption provided to casinos, which pay substantial amounts of revenue to the state. Merrifield noted for the record that he opposed that exemption. However, he added, he felt he could not vote against the final bill for that reason alone.
Merrifield believes public opinion is on his side. An even stricter anti-smoking law was being considered by private entities as a ballot initiative next fall, and he said polls showed a statewide majority would have voted for it.
At Laura Belle's, some smoking customers were asked what they would do at night when the law takes effect. “Just stay home,” one said, while others nodded.
Westside Pioneer article