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Hope across the border
Kelly Kuyath is hoping she can counter an expected drop in business at Kelly's Riverview Bar in Red Wing by adding a grill for food and an outdoor smoking shelter. Ninety percent of her clientele smokes.
"I hate to see it," Kuyath said of the ban. "It's awful."
She estimates that the smoking shelter will cost $20,000. Like many business owners, Kuyath sees the state's infamous winter as a nemesis that will push customers into Wisconsin.
"It'll be a tough year," she said.
As Kuyath opened beers at one end of the bar, customer Skip Schroeder of Red Wing sat at the other, taking drags from a Doral Menthol and sipping a Heileman's Old Style Beer.
"I got a bar at home," said 54-year-old Schroeder, who has smoked since he was 8. "I'm not going to stand outside and smoke cigarettes."
Several smokers across the state said they worried about the ban's financial impact on local businesses but also said they don't plan to patronize those businesses as often or ever again despite their possible demise. Smokers have become second-class citizens, they said. It's a matter of principle.
"Smoking is more important than friends," said Gary Lien of Diamond Bluff, Wis. "I mean that."
Border town bars have another hope. A proposed statewide smoking ban in Wisconsin is stalled in a state Senate committee, but some Wisconsin bar owners have said they're fated to see the same restrictions as their Minnesota counterparts.
'Smokers are tough'
If Gene and Susan Holman's experience is any indication, bar owners might be waiting awhile for the dust to settle. They own the Lumberjack Lounge in Cloquet, Minn., in Carlton County, which enacted a smoking ban in June.
Business at the Lumberjack is down 40 percent as customers travel to nearby counties or the Black Bear Casino, they said.
"There's nothing you can do but pray that your customers are loyal," Susan Holman said.
When Mike Gengler, owner of Gulden's in Maplewood, went smoke-free several years ago, he said, he watched as customers drove up the road to establishments in White Bear Lake in Washington County. Twenty-five percent of his business comes from the bar.
Gulden's has redone its menu, will keep later hours for serving food, and even is considering changing its hours for karaoke to attract more non-smoking customers. But Gengler, who has owned the bar and restaurant for 17 years, does not expect his old smoking customers to come back.
"Honestly, smokers are tough," he said. "They may come and have a couple, but I can't imagine them staying all night. A lot of people are going to be out in their garages."