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Smoking ban affecting local businesses

(3/6) Most afternoons, a group of women would enjoy lunch at the Ott House in Emmitsburg. They would sit, play Keno and chain smoke, recalls Robert Ott, co-owner of the Ott House. “Once the smoking ban went into effect, we haven’t seen them since.”

Restaurants and bars are noticing a decline in business since the Maryland Clean Indoor Act took effect Feb. 1. The smoking ban, as it is often referred, bans smoking in all public places, including restaurants and bars.

Business owners in the town of Emmitsburg notice an even greater decline. Only one mile separates them from Pennsylvania, where there is no smoking ban.

Larry Shriner, owner of One More Tavern in Emmitsburg recognized a negative impact. A small establishment, One More Tavern serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and 95 percent of its patrons are smokers. “People are coming in, they just aren’t staying as long,” said Shriner. “They are not buying a third and fourth round.”

One More Tavern, known for having the lowest priced beer in town, is looking to raise prices just to meet the bottom line. He has lost customers to Dave and Jane’s Crabhouse and the Four Seasons in Fairfield, Pa.

“We have shut bands down early since they are playing only to the employees, it’s been so slow at night,” said Susan Glass, co-owner of The Ott House. She does admit that it is a bit early to determine if the decrease in business is due to the smoking ban or the economic slump, although she believes it to be a combination.

The effect does not seem to be as great in Thurmont. Vickie Grinder, general manager of The Cozy Restaurant, doesn’t see a difference after the ban.

“January and February are difficult months in the hospitality industry as is. As far as the smoking ban, I do not feel it has affected our business,” Grinder said.

The Cozy Restaurant is unique in that during the warmer months, patrons can sit outside on the arboretum to eat, drink and smoke. Grinder expects that it will be business as usual when the arboretum opens.

Skipper Misner, owner of the Thurmont Bar and Grill thinks business has stayed about the same. “We’ve naturally had complaints from patrons, but in a few months, they will get used to it. I have heard the ban has hurt others.”

Owners are all in agreement that other issues have arisen as a result of the smoking ban. Crowds of smoking patrons tend to gather around the entrances which can be intimidating to newcomers. They worry that non-smokers will not want to walk through the crowd of smokers to enter an establishment.

Littering has increased. Even with proper receptacles in place, many smokers continue to litter the ground with ashes and butts.

Legal issues also concern owners. There is an increased worry about maintaining vigilance on upholding drinking laws, such as minors sneaking into establishments and patrons taking their drinks outside with them when they smoke. Owners are finding they will have to make accommodations to maintain the laws, such as hiring additional employees to watch the door.

“It’s a mess,” Shriner said. “Every three days, I’m outside sweeping up the cigarette butts even though there is an ashtray right by the door. I’ve also decided to ban patrons if they take their beer outside with them.”

Under the act, business owners can file for extensions based on hardship. Most, however, are hoping the situation will be temporary and after smokers adjust to the ban, business will resume.

The situation is not entirely negative. The indoor air is cleaner, there is less smoke residue on the ceilings, windows are cleaner and you can see across the room.

Patrons who previously avoided establishments because of the smoky air can again return. Still, owners and smoking patrons agree that the smoking ban was a loss for citizen’s rights. They believe it is more a rights issue than a health issue.

“This is banning a legal product. If the government can do this to you, what’s next?” Grinder said.

“It’s taking people’s rights away. They just keep taking and taking and taking,” Misner said. He quit smoking in 1989.

Read other news stories related to the Emmitsburg Town Government