Tuesday, July 01, 2008

It's Cinderalla Time For Iowa Smokers

As other Iowa business owners were downloading “no smoking” signs from the Internet to comply with the first day of a statewide indoor ban, Vickie Ewoldt in Audubon was scrambling for something else.

She was searching for a flag, not an American flag, certainly not Iowa’s.

No, this longtime owner of Vic’s Main Tap wanted a Soviet flag to fly outside her bar in protest of the new law.

“I was even asking someone if they had a Soviet flag because I’d hang it out,” Ewoldt said. “It’s getting more communist all the time.”

At Kerp’s Tavern in Carroll, Kathy Cavitt, a veteran of the insurance business, was enjoying her last legal cigarettes in the bar she’s patronized for three decades.
It feels strange, she says, to know she won’t be able to smoke a Marlboro Light in there again.

“I think it’s ‘1984’ — the book,” she says, in a reference to Big Brother.

For her part, Ewoldt estimated that about 50 percent of her patrons are smokers — and the figure climbed much higher on Friday and Saturday nights.

Customers aren’t happy about the ban, she said.

“I’ve already heard a lot of kickback, people saying they might as well stay home,” Ewoldt said. “I don’t blame them at all.”

Ewoldt, who smokes Misty Ultra Lights, has worked at the bar since 1983 — and owned it since 1986.

She’s joined a coalition of bar owners spoiling for a legal fight over the ban.
Her view is that she owns the building, smoking is legal and it should be her call on whether to allow it.

“That’s just what it’s all about,” Ewoldt said. “If you don’t like smoke, then don’t go into the bar. A drink and a cigarette have gone together for years.”

She sees the law as having a dramatic change for what constitutes night life in Audubon.

“It’s going to change it a lot,” Ewoldt said. “People won’t be able to go out and do anything anymore.”

At Kerp’s the Badding family, who have operated the bar since 1977, served customers enjoying their last smokes in the bar, and prepared to box up the ashtrays. Under the law the bar may be able to set up some outdoor patio area for smokers. That’s being considered, said manager Ben Badding.

The Iowa smoking ban allows bars but not restaurants to have patios, and local businesses are reviewing the letter of the law to determine what options, if any, they have to cater to smokers.

At 5:45 p.m. Monday, 15 of the 19 people in Kerp’s were smoking. The ratio of smokers can be even higher at times, said bartender Kipp Kanne. He wasn’t on the clock at the time so Kanne smoked some Marlboro Lights with a cocktail as he talked about the ban.
“All my employees say smoking doesn’t bother them, otherwise they wouldn’t work in a bar,” Ben Badding said.

In some cities that have imposed bans, like New York or Chicago, new non-smoking clientele have come in to fill the bar stools left empty by the stubborn or resolute smokers.

Badding doesn’t see Carroll having a population base to fill that void of the loyal smoking Kerp’s drinker, should the ban chase them home.

“Carroll people who don’t go out already don’t go out for a reason,” Badding said. “I don’t think smoking in Carroll ever was an issue.”

Badding doesn’t think the urban liberal legislators who drove the ban have any sort of feel for life in rural Iowa.

“They don’t understand that in the farming communities we go out, have a couple of drinks, a couple of cigarettes, and go home,” Badding said.

One Kerp’s customer who says he’ll be spending more time at home because of the ban is Terry Olson.

“More time on the deck, without a doubt,” Olson said when asked how he would deal with the ban. “I enjoy cigarettes when I drink. The good news is my friends say we’re going to spend more time on the deck.”

Roy Osterlund, whose family will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ossy’s Show Club in Carroll, said he hears people complain about the ban, but he’s betting they won’t stay away.

“I’ve had a lot of customers say they’re going to sit at home in the garage,” Osterlund said. “I really don’t think that will last too long.”

Osterlund said that like Badding he’s eyeing a possible patio area or the re-opening of a one-time volleyball area outside of the bar complex as a smokers’ cove.

Both Badding and Osterlund said they spent thousands of dollars in recent years on air-exchange systems to remove smoke, investments that are now obsolete.

“We did it for five years of use, and now it just sits there — starting tomorrow,” Badding said Monday night.

Jett Alex, who along with his wife, Holly, owns the Club House Bar & Grille in Carroll, is already in adaptation mode. He’s using the ban to promote more food and a family atmosphere. The business now has a regular salad bar and plans for special prime rib dinners.

With the smokers gone, Alex has a message for moms and dads: bring the kids.

“We like the drinkers but during the day, when they’re not here, bring the family in,” Alex said.

At the Carroll Country Club, manager Nate Pettitt doesn’t expect much pushback associated with the ban. There will be no smoking in the bar or on the patio, but it will permitted on the golf course.

He’s working with Carroll attorney and club board member Eric Neu on the specifics of the law and how it will be enforced. But whatever the final rules are, Pettitt expects a smooth transition.

“In our case I think it will be somewhat self-governing,” Pettitt said.

Tonight is the first men’s league under the ban and if someone forgets about the ban and lights up on the patio or in the bar, “there will be enough people who don’t smoke who make the comment,” Pettitt said.

(Photo: Kipp Kanne, a bartender at Kerp's Tavern in Carroll smokes a Marlboro Light on the last day for legal smoking in Iowa bars Monday.)


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