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Reactions mixed after first year of smoking ban

A year has come and gone already since Minnesota's statewide smoking ban went into effect. For the most part, Farmington bars and restaurants are rebounding from the initial decrease that followed the ban.

No one will argue against the fact bars and restaurants generally smell better without the scent of cigarette smoke. But local businesses did feel an initial pinch, and in at least one case, the ban led to much bigger problems.

Gossips manager Buffy LaBeau, a smoker herself, said her patrons did not like the ban at first, and business took an initial drop. But as people got used to the fact that the ban was in effect everywhere they eventually started coming back.

"It seems to be fine now," she said. "I don't like the mess in the street, but I like (the cleaner air), and I'm a smoker."

LaBeau says not being able to smoke inside while she is working has helped her to cut back, too. And her nonsmoker customers like the cleaner air.

Farmington Lanes operating manager Bob Grafing said the ban has been helpful in that it has increased the family traffic, as parents seem to bring their children into the lanes more now.

On the other hand, pulltabs and charitable gambling sales have dropped, something he links to losing "old timers" who enjoyed coming in, having a couple of beers, smoking and playing pull tabs. Still, Grafing said the current economy has had a hand in the decrease, as well.

League bowlers generally change their shoes or use shoe covers when they go outside to smoke, he said, and the patio outside has places for patrons to sit. For the most part, Grafing agrees that customers have just gotten used to the ban.

"It's an inconvenience, but it's something we have to live with. The law is the law," he said.

Probably the one business in Farmington that was most affected by the smoking ban is the Farmington American Legion, which just reopened this week after being closed for eight months due to a fire set by someone who discreetly smoked inside the bar and shoved the butts down a vent.

"If it wasn't for that ban, none of this would have ever happened," said assistant manager Joanne Miede.

Legion manager Dawn Paget said most of her customers initially complained about the ban, but have complied all the same. Like other places in town, business dropped off at first, but had started to pick up again after a few months.

"They were just starting to come back and we were starting to see new faces. People just got used to it," she said.

Under the provisions of the law, anyone who smokes in a bar or restaurant can be charged with a petty misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is a $300 fine.