ELYRIA – Business at local restaurants and watering holes hasn`t been great since smokers learned almost a year ago that their days of lighting up in public were at an end.
Dennis Provenza, owner of Boomers in Elyria, said he lost about half of his customers because of the statewide smoking ban.
Now that they can`t smoke inside his bar, people don`t stay as late and don`t stop in as often to play a game of pool or have a quick drink, he said.
Jay Murray of Church Street Bar & Grille in Amherst had the same experience.
But things are getting better now, because, like many other entrepreneurs across Ohio, he is taking steps to win back customers.
“The ban killed us last winter. We were down 40 percent. When summer came back, so did our regular crowd,” he said.
In September, Murray started construction on an outside bar where he can serve 64 smokers at a time without breaking the ban.
He already has a patio next to his establishment where smokers can mix drags with drinks.
So far, the buzz about his expansion – which should be complete by the end of January – has convinced about
20 percent of his patrons to return, Murray said.
Provenza`s taken similar steps, partially enclosing a patio and getting an outdoor liquor permit so smokers can drink and smoke with a little protection from the elements.
“They don`t like to be out there, especially when it`s cold,” he said. “But we do use it, because the smokers need to use it. They have to have somewhere to go.”
The granddaddy of all outdoor smoking areas, though, is at Quaker Steak & Lube in Sheffield.
The bay doors there open to a horseshoe-shaped bar that seats about 50 and includes televisions, partitions to block the wind and snow, heating and even a pool table.
Manager Diane Lamvermeyer said that the special dining area has always been there, but this is the first time the restaurant has opened it in the winter.
“(Smokers) come in all week long asking when we`re opening it. They don`t like getting up from the bar to go out to smoke,” she said.
Ashtrays started gradually disappearing from bars and restaurants all over the state Dec. 7, 2006, after voters decided to enact the public smoking ban.
Enforcement only began in May, though, after state officials decided on the exact wording of the law.
Outdoor smoking areas can still be located directly next to doors and windows but have to be separated by partitions, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
A minimum of half of the smoking area`s walls and ceiling must be open to the air.
Penalties for violating the ban range from a warning letter on a first offense to a $2,500 fine after the fourth offense.
Contact Jason Hawk at 653-6264 or email@example.com.