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Smoke ban still has bars suffering from withdrawal

Like most bars in the area, Moorhead taverns were anxiously tuned in to the Minnesota Twins-Chicago White Sox game Tuesday night. What patrons saw wasn't always pretty, but at least they could see it clearly. Any smoke in the room would've been c...

Like most bars in the area, Moorhead taverns were anxiously tuned in to the Minnesota Twins-Chicago White Sox game Tuesday night. What patrons saw wasn't always pretty, but at least they could see it clearly. Any smoke in the room would've been coming out of the ears of steaming fans, not cigarette-smoking regulars.

Today is the first anniversary of all Minnesota bars going smoke-free. While it's been a year for the air to clear, a bitter taste still lingers in the mouths of those who felt such a ban was asserting the will of some on the rights of everyone.

About this time last year, Gary Peterson, owner of Chumley's at 1608 Main Ave. in Moorhead, was uncertain about the future of his bar.

Three months before Tim Pawlenty signed the "Freedom to Breathe" act in May 2007, Peterson told The Forum, "A bar and smoking go hand in hand." He added, "You bet it's a death knell."

By mid-November, he'd changed his tune on the gloom and doom.

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"It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be," he told the paper. "Business is down from a year ago, but I'm not ready to throw up a white flag and blame it all on smoking."

A year after the ban, Peterson still has mixed feelings about the imposed change.

"As an independent business person, I don't like being told what to do," he explained Tuesday afternoon.

While he said business was initially down, the Fargo ban on bar smoke nine months later evened the playing field.

While business may be a bit down, he's seen a benefit for his employees. A number of bartenders and servers have cut back or entirely quit smoking.

Also, without being around smoke for your shift, it's easier to go home and not take the smell of the bar with you.

"If you were a garbage man and they took the smell out of garbage, what would you think?" Peterson asked.

The owners of Mick's Office and Vic's Lounge and the manager of the American Legion, all in Moorhead, couldn't be reached for comment. The management at O'Leary's declined to comment.

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But patrons and workers in at least one Moorhead bar still feel the ban is a total drag.

"People don't come out anymore because they can't smoke anymore and it's (ticking) me off," said Ron Gregor, bar manager of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at 2201 1st Ave. N.

While he said the number of visitors is down, Tuesday afternoon's turnout of 40-some bingo players seemed to be a good showing, even if they weren't smoking.

Pat Boyle, who was having a drink at the bar, said in addition to not being able to smoke inside and reports of charitable gambling revenue dropping, another affront is that he doesn't see an influx of nonsmokers in the bar now.

"They're not here, but they should be," he said, before extending an invitation. "All you people who wanted a smoking ban, come out to the bar and have a pop or have a drink and support your community."

Bingo!

Readers can reach Forum columnist John Lamb at (701) 241-5533 or jlamb@forumcomm.com

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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