A statewide smoking ban began today, and business owners have been preparing for a new era.
In the past months, six Minnesota bar bands have dialed up Tyomies Bar in Superior, Wis., looking to book gigs at the bar located a skip across the bridge from Duluth. Down the street, Shooter's Saloon has doubled its wait staff from two to four and a few blocks away, High Fives On 5th has added five tables.
The Superior watering holes are bracing for more business from Minnesotans leaving their home state to escape a statewide smoking ban that went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today.
"Oh yeah," said Sheila Kyrola, a manager at Tyomies. "They're looking for new bars."
Lighting up almost anywhere indoors in Minnesota will be prohibited as of today, when it joins 17 other states that have statewide smoking bans.
Restaurants, bars and private clubs are expected to be affected the most, and their owners are the most anxious.
The ban promises to change the way many Minnesotans socialize and how local businesses operate, especially in border towns, where nonsmoking and smoking bars may soon be almost close enough for secondhand smoke to drift from one to the other.
Some fear that patrons who don't cross state lines might jump ship to casinos on Indian reservations, where smoking will be allowed, while others may simply drink and smoke in their own homes.
Bracing for the ban, bar owners have been making last-minute trips to home improvement stores to pick up extra propane heaters. Outdoor areas, where smoking is permitted, have been added in many places.
"They're doing patios, outdoor facilities to try and make their customers have a spot to have a cigarette so they don't have to get in a car and leave," said Kenn Rockler, of the Minnesota Tavern League.
Otis Trujillo, owner of LaFonda de Los Lobos in Eagan, said he has begun a $50,000 remodeling of a dining room in anticipation of massive losses from his sports bar on another floor. But he will not spend money on outdoor patios until he gets more information about how local governments will react. Local governments are permitted to enact stricter standards than the state law.
"If smoking is what kept you away, I'm giving you something new," Trujillo said. "As far as constructing new walls and putting up tents outside, we're not doing that until I get direct definition of what's allowed."
Hoping for change, few bumps
The Minnesota Department of Health and local health officials have distributed thousands of information packets to about 7,000 food and beverage establishments reminding them of the new law.
The expressed intent of the law, Minnesota's Freedom to Breathe Act, is to protect workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke. But antismoking advocates have not been shy about their hopes for other consequences -- that fewer people will smoke.
"Smoking becomes something you have to interrupt your social activity to do. Because of that, you just cut down more," said Mike Maguire, a spokesman for the Midwest Division of the American Cancer Society. "We expect a pretty smooth transition with just a few bumps."
In Ohio, though, where a statewide ban took effect this year, many businesses appeared to be openly violating the law. More than 13,000 complaints about smoking were reported during the ban's first four months, according to one newspaper account.
But in Minnesota "for the most part people will comply," predicted Dr. Jane Korn, medical director for the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Division of the Minnesota Department of Health. "We're just going to rely on Minnesotans being law-abiding citizens."
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."