Anniston bars ready for smoke-free ordinance
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Jun 27, 2013 | 5015 views |  0 comments | 226 226 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Taking a smoking break at the Smoking Moose.  They are employees that were building a deck so patrons can smoke outside since smoking is no longer permitted inside.  Right is Shawn Raper who works security and left is maintenance man Mark Hurst.    Photo by Bill Wilson.
Taking a smoking break at the Smoking Moose. They are employees that were building a deck so patrons can smoke outside since smoking is no longer permitted inside. Right is Shawn Raper who works security and left is maintenance man Mark Hurst. Photo by Bill Wilson.
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Mark Hurst and Shawn Raper were hard at work this afternoon getting ready to turn the vacant lot behind the Smoking Moose Saloon into a destination for its patrons, both regulars who smoke and new customers alike.

By the time the project is finished, the private club on Noble Street will boast a 32-foot square covered patio, a combination volleyball and badminton court and access for motorcyclists to secure their bikes inside a wooden privacy fence.

At bars, clubs and other public places across Anniston, owners and managers like those at the Smoking Moose are preparing for Monday, when the city's new restrictions on smoking take effect.The new rules mean smokers must light up outside and away from doorways, leaving some businesses looking for places to accommodate longtime customers.

“It has really encouraged downtown merchants to think outside the box,” said Dianna Michaels, director of Spirit of Anniston, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalization and development of Anniston’s downtown.

Marcia Jackson, manager of the Smoking Moose, said the privacy fence will allow her customers to carry their drinks outside. She hopes the deck will be ready for them to use early next week.

With the changes being made behind the club, she doesn’t think the new ordinance will hurt business.

“We’re going to gain some that quit coming to the bars because of the smoke,” she said, “and we’re going to accommodate the ones who do smoke.”

Just down Noble Street at The Office, owner Alan Stovall is also considering an outdoor patio. Located mid-block and backing on an alley, he doesn’t have much room to work with. But he’s looking for an innovative solution; turning the split-level back portion of his establishment into an outdoor seating area may be his only option.

“It’s going to cost me a sizable amount to do this, with the economy as it is, but I’m optimistic that I’ll survive and work through it no matter what I’ve got to do,” he said.

Stovall said he hopes downtown merchants can work with the city for policies to allow sidewalk seating and other new ideas to improve their customers’ experience.

The Peerless Grille & Saloon put the no-smoking policy in place a month early.

The saloon side, which operates as a more traditional bar, stopped allowing patrons to smoke at the beginning of June, partly to test the waters with her patrons, said owner Kristy Farmer.

Bartender Kira Tidmore said that so far, patrons have been content to step outside to smoke, but she worries when the requirement that restricts smoking within 15 feet of doors goes into effect on Monday, smokers will feel banished.

Farmer said the Peerless will eventually build a deck on the grill side, but people who are gathering in the saloon aren’t going to want to go through the grill and upstairs to the deck.

For the time being, she said, Peerless staff are going to see how the ordinance works out before they make any changes.

“We’ll do whatever is necessary to keep everybody happy,” she said.

The Peerless’ early adoption of the smoke-free policy hasn’t hurt business thus far, Farmer said.

Bartender Francis Allbritton hasn’t seen much change in her clientele since going smoke-free, but now she sees nonsmokers who normally went home after a drink or two staying all night, and smokers who used to linger at the bar now call it an evening much earlier.

The Office’s Stovall said he doesn’t disagree with what the City Council is trying to accomplish with the ordinance, but he’s concerned about losing patrons to bars in Jacksonville and other communities without a smoking ban.

Larry Fidel, president of the Alabama Restaurant & Hospitality Alliance, said the organization supports a statewide ban of smoking in all public places, including bars and restaurants.

He said the ARHA prefers a statewide ban over city ordinances because smokers have no choice about smoking indoors, which creates a level playing field for local businesses.

Fidel said history has shown that smokers will migrate after such ordinances go into effect, but some locations can see a bump in business as non-smokers return to venues they wouldn’t patronize before the ban.

But, he said, “after a while, things get back to normal and it doesn’t affect business that much.”

Fidel said alliance members in smokefree communities have noticed an added benefit of going smokefree — lower maintenance costs because they don’t have to clean carpets and upholstery as often.

Fidel said that with more cities opting to ban smoking in public places, he hopes a statewide ban will eventually come.

State Sen. Vivian Figures (D-Mobile) has been working to pass a statewide comprehensive smoking ban for about 15 years. In 2003, she was able to pass a watered-down version of the law known as the Alabama Clean Indoor Air Act, which banned smoking in most public places. However, the legislation provides exceptions for such establishments as bars and lounges, tobacco-related businesses and hotels.

Figures said she’s still working to get a fully comprehensive ban passed in the legislature.

“I’ll be back every year and hopefully, we’ll get a majority in both houses that sees how important this is,” she said. “To have a healthier Alabama is to have a more productive Alabama.”

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

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