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Posted on Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 6:02 a.m.

Ann Arbor bars report no loss of business one month after Michigan's smoking ban

By Dan Meisler

nick easton.jpg

Ann Arbor bar owner Nick Easton says the smoking ban, which took effect on May 1, hasn't hurt his business.

File photo |

One month after state law barred smoking in their establishments, tavern and restaurant owners around Ann Arbor are not reporting any dramatic downturn in their business.

And the reaction among patrons -- while still going through an adjustment period - ranged from joy (usually nonsmokers) to resignation (usually smokers).

"I love it," said Sara Gnagi of Brighton, a nonsmoker who was having a drink one recent night at Conor O'Neill's on Main Street. "I have a much easier time breathing."

Her friend Jennifer Hall, who said in the past she typically only smoked at bars, didn't mind the new restrictions.

"I'm still happy," she said. "If people have to go outside, that's fine."

They both said they're more likely to go out more often now that smoking isn't allowed in bars.

Nick Easton, owner of the complex of bars on First Street including the Millennium Club and Cavern Club, said he thinks there are others like Gnagi and Hall -- nonsmokers who are more apt to visit a smoke-free bar.

"I've heard that before the ban even went into effect," he said.

Easton said it's hard to gauge because the smoking ban coincided with students leaving town for the summer. But, he said, "I don't really think it's affected many of the people still in town."

Chris Pawlicki, who co-owns the Old Town Tavern with his brother, Steve, said dinner sales were up 20 percent since the ban went into effect May 1. Night sales, measured after the kitchen closes, were up more modestly.

Even longtime regulars who smoke "are cool with it," Pawlicki said.

"I step outside now and it smells like it used to smell inside," he said.

"I think we still see most of the people that we saw before, they spend almost as much time here, they just go outside to smoke. At some points, there’s a lot of empty tables."

Easton said the throngs of smokers standing outside his clubs are actually a positive development.

"I think it looks good. It looks like there's a line to get in ... it looks like this place is happening, at least that's my opinion," he said.

Carmen Fernando, general manager at Ashley’s, agreed that it’s been tough to accurately gauge the impact of the ban with the exodus of students from town for the summer. But she added that it seems as though the change has been positive, overall.

"I think it’s either had no impact or it may have benefited us a little bit with the people who are nonsmokers who are now coming in," she said. "Traditionally in the past, from a few people we have been considered a little bit of a smoky bar. In that way it may have helped us.

"The fact that, because you can’t smoke in any bars or restaurants, we’re not losing any customers to other bars."

John Shields and Krysta Sa, residents of Bowling Green, Ohio, a state that's had a smoking ban in restaurants for years, said that people here will adjust in time. They were smoking outside of the Blind Pig on First Street as they waited for Shields' band, King Recliner, to play.

"I think it's better," Shields said. "I didn't like it at first but people are used to it. It's not a big deal."

"I feel like a lot of people like it, even smokers," Sa added.

That acceptance hasn't necessarily taken hold in Ann Arbor yet, according to David Root, general manager at the the Brown Jug on South University.

"I think any smoker isn’t happy about it, but there’s not really anything they can do about it," he said. "They can’t get mad at us, because we have to enforce the law."

"I think it kind of infringes on personal rights. If you’re a private business owner you should have a choice. I don’t think the government should be able to tell you. But… once the law passed I didn’t really care that much either, because everybody had to go nonsmoking," he added.

Sean Stevens, a smoker and a bartender, said the people of Michigan should have been able to vote on the issue. But he said overall the law is probably a good thing.

"I think it's a step in a good direction, but I don't like the way it was done," he said.

He said the immediate drawbacks at some places have been people smoking in the bathroom and making a mess, and the crowds of smokers outside of bars. He said walking into one downtown bar he had to go through "a mountain of cigarette butts. It looked terrible."

For Bill Fraser, owner of Fraser's Pub on Packard Street, that negative is outweighed by the positives.

"For us it’s been a blessing," he said.

The watering hole is hosting more families, he said, and overall sales are up 20 percent.

"We’re getting more people that didn’t like smoking, obviously. And nights have improved a lot. So it’s been a real run for us."

Fraser said staff spent several days after the ban took effect cleaning the restaurant’s walls, ceilings, picture frames and floors. "The place smells great. No more smoke.

"I’ve been waiting for this for years and years. It’s a blessing in disguise, it really is." Fraser’s has set up two tables for smokers near the parking lot, but the bar isn’t sure what accommodations it will make come wintertime.

"We don’t want anybody hanging out by the door," Fraser said.

Some bar owners or managers said they packed away their keepsake ashtrays or threw them out.

"On the last night of smoking, most of them were either stolen or given away," reports Old Town’s Pawlicki. "We have like two or three of 'em. We didn’t have a ton of 'em anyway. I actually had to go out a buy a couple, like maybe half a dozen at the dollar store just to get us through the last night because people were stealing them."

The Brown Jug held onto its inventory.

"Ashtrays are used in one of our shots, so we kept them for our shots," Root said.

Freelance reporters Dan Meisler and Sven Gustafson reported this story for's Business Review.



Sun, Jun 13, 2010 : 1:51 a.m.

Nick Easton. It's sad that you featured him in an article, considering he's the worst and one of the most hated "businessmen" in town. Not only does he treat his employees like shit, but he treats the bands he books like shit and the customers that goes to his shows like shit. Tonight he allowed a patron of his to charge up a credit card that wasn't their's and then gave them the credit card when they left. When the original owner of the credit card came up to the bar to cash out, he not only didn't apologize, but he argued with them even though she had shown them her ID and asked to see the receipt. When others came to her defense, he threatened to kick everyone out. Rather than apologize for the misunderstanding or try to find a solution, he only argued and threatened. For past shows, he has stiffed the band and not paid them what they were promised. During a show that featured break dancers (which he agreed to when he booked them), he kicked out the break dancers. He treats not only his employees like shit, but his customers, and the bands that he books. This is not based on one incident, but several. Every experience I or the bands I know have had with him has been a horrible one. He is rude, defensive and never apologetic even when it's obviously his fault. He is a sad excuse for a business owner.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 9:23 a.m.

Mark - any "source" you provide which has "blogspot" in its URL immediately diminishes your ethos. And, as someone implied - correlation not causation. I'm a smoker, and I love this ban. I smoke so much less because of it. For example, before I might have smoked 2-4 cigarettes in an hour, just because I could, or I'd smell someone else's and it'd make me want one, etc. Since the ban, I go out maybe once every 1.5 hours. I really didn't think of this as right infringement; I thought of this as Michigan becoming less trashy and getting with the times. Now if I could just get fellow smokers to dispose of the butts properly...


Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 5:32 p.m.

@semper fi - I seem to hearing or reading that the Full Moon had been sold, either just before or just after Andy died - that's when it went "No Smoking" - several months before the law took effect. Andy's greatest entreprenurial accomplishments were what got him the money to buy the bars in the first place - but that's another story... it might just "blow" you away, I've heard. I don't frequent any of the bars you mentioned, although I used to hit Ashley's periodically. I was thinking of 4-5 others, a couple in the State St. area, and a couple more near the Kerrytown area, where I personally know owners and/or managers well enough to get the straight scoop. I think talking to the media is different than talking to people you know well - more forthcoming with the latter.

Bill Wilson

Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 2:30 p.m.

One can really wonder why so many people need to go to a place exclusively devoted to providing alcohol (which is a proven toxin) and then complain about (tenuously proven to be toxic) cigarette smoke. What jokers. Certainly, such jokers have no business actually participating in what are supposed to be reasoned, rational and factual discussions like this one is supposed to be. As for the "welfare" of these businesses which enable alcoholism: I couldn't care less. Yawn.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 11:25 a.m.

Indeed. It isn't transfat or salt which will be banned next. It will be perfumes. Some of them contain chemicals which cause pretty horrible reactions in other people. Certain perfumes give me headaches. I actually would love it if all perfumes were banned including those found in most commercial laundry detergents.


Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 9:10 a.m.

"Great news! Now we need to ban salt, trans fats, extra large portions as well as regulate bicycle riders within city limits. For their safety of course." See, it's always these people that miss the POINT. If YOU eat crappy food, it only affects YOU. If you smoke it affects everyone around you. This ban isn't about you, its about people that don't want your stinky smoke on their clothes, in their hair, in their lungs. Don't breathe second-hand smoke if you're pregnant? Nearly impossible. The ban sure helps!


Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 1:11 p.m.

I'm not sure what to think of the "statistics" provided. Prior to the ban of May 1, 70% of Washtenaw County "establishments" were already non-smoking, ranging from The Cloverleaf to BD's Mongolian. But what I would like to see is a law mandating the strict enforcement on alcohol consumption...let's see how many people have died from "second-hand smoke" versus being killed by a drunk driver??? I think every bar should have breathylzers to gauge one's BAL before exiting the building. Oh, but wait...wouldn't that be putting restrictions on one's freedom of choice?


Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 7:29 a.m.

Oh by the way--I'm a non-smoker, and to insinuate that non-smokers are teetotalers is rubbish--flat out untrue.


Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 7:15 a.m.

Glad to see bars are doing well, but I suspected they would all along. With a total ban, where are all the smokers going to go? Are they just going to go home and grovel? Not likely. All people go to bars for the same thing: to party, to socialize, to get drunk. Those are the common denominators, not smoking. Smoking goes hand in hand, but it isn't the catalyst.


Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 7:14 a.m.

Jerry, You should read the links first, some of the establishments on SmokersClub are still open, but they make the list because owners are reporting the revenue losses from the smoking bans. As far as Clearing the Air it's written by a non-smoker specializing in air quality issues and provides AQ testing conducted by anti-tobacco activists which proves SHS is SAFER than OSHA workplace regulations, thus to ban smoking because it's a "workplace health hazard" is not just an exaggeration; but an outright LIE: Establishment closings on that site are verified with local media and owners directly:


Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 7 a.m.

@ CynicA2 The Full Moon may be closed because it's owner, Andy Gulvezan, died a few months back. Andy, being the great entrepeneur he was, would have found a way for the smoking ban to make money for his bar. I'm not sure which after 10pm bars you're referring to, but Conor O'Neil's, Ashley's, Fraser's Pub and the Century Club complex is a pretty good cross section and they're all doing fine.


Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 6:30 a.m.

Thanks for that info..Sven.


Wed, Jun 2, 2010 : 5:42 a.m.

Mark and Thomas..... How about posting some REPUTABLE links? Cleaning the air and Smokers club are NOT reputable. SmokersClub posted a list of places that closed due to the ban. Within 5 minutes I found 4 from there list that were alive and well, and laughed when I told them I read they were closed. Non smokers will lie, and try to manipulate facts to try to get attention and get people to feel sorry for them. The smoking ban is here to stay, and is spreading WORLD WIDE. No matter how big of a temper tantrum you throw, it will not help. The sooner you accept the fact that you lost and you will NOT be getting your own way, the better of a human being you will become.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 5:22 p.m.

It's way too early to tell how many BARS (not restaurants) will fail because of this. No place I frequent has shown any increase in business at the times I typically frequent them, which is to say after 10 PM. In fact, one bar owner in the downtown area allowed that the after-10PM crowd is where most of the lost business is. The tee-totaling, non-smoking, family dining crowd is long gone by then, and the regular drinking crowd shows-up. Most of them smoke, so it stands to reason that this is where the drop in business will occur. It is also the timeframe where the gravy money was for many bars (and their staffs) - lots of boozy smokers who tip well - many of whom work in other restaurants[bars themselves. Now, maybe not so much of that business - it's easier and cheaper to just go to someone's place and hang-out. Also, does anyone know why the Full Moon has been closed for awhile? Sign says "... for Spring Cleaning", but nothing going on inside.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 4:57 p.m.

I have really mixed feelings about this law. On the one hand, I don't smoke and I do enjoy it more when all of the bars and restaurants are non smoking. On the other hand, I would have preferred a solution which would have encouraged bars/restaurants to be non-smoking but still allowed for some to continue to allow smoking. I thought a somewhat expensive smoking license would have done the trick. Then most places would be non-smoking and a few would still have smoking and the State could suck up some extra revenue from those who still smoke. Oh well. It is a done deed now and complaining about it won't change anything. It is also hard for me to get passionate about a law that I actually like in practice even if I don't like it in theory.

Atticus F.

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 4:14 p.m.

Just wait tell January...we'll see how many smokers dont mind standing outside to puff a cig. I believe the whole reason the law went into effect in May, is because people dont mind smoking when it's nice out, and the negative effect on business would not coincide with the time the law actually changed.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 3:52 p.m.

Andy Jacobs, I am a non-smoker....I don't criticize smoking bans because I smoke....I criticize them because they eliminated 100,000+ jobs. Additionally, air quality testing by pro-smoking ban groups prove SHS is 2.6 - 25,000 times SAFER than OSHA workplace regulations:


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 3:14 p.m.

places that sucked where smokers hung out at just because it was convenient/cool to do so will continue to suck and will pay the price as their suckiness can no longer be hidden in a cloud of smoke. @mark - I'm sure your statement is correct about those that abuse their bodies by smoking also correlating to the same core group that throw other cautions to the wind and pound down drinks, don't exercise and consume high amounts of pre-processed foods/sodium/trans fats. It's very obvious they don't care about themselves (which we'll all be paying for later on Medicare) nor the condition of world for that matter I see many of them throwing cigarette butts and ashes out car windows. Go to any intersection not regularly cleaned and it looks overwhelmingly like an ashtray. Name me one non smoker who uses the world as an ashtray. See this? (points to cigarrette butt just thrown out car window by smoker). STOP IT Now if you could just stand away from the entrance or not exhale when you have to get your nic fit break.... Sack up and quit already, it will be better for America.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 1:25 p.m.

I think it overall have a negative effect on "real" bars and not food+drink establishments, but not that big. People that go to drink and smoke at bars will still do so, but not as many. People claiming they can "finally go into bars" becasue the smoke won't bother them will increase business, but not by much. The ban is still new and people are getting used to it. Rules about being 25 feet (?) away from any business are not being inforced, so it doesn't seem to be that big of a deal. If they really start cracking down I would expect that to have a heavier effect on business. Also, I think this winter many bars will be hurting more than on warm summer nights. But we shall see.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 12:59 p.m.

The focus of this article has been Ann Arbor. Try going to small towns around the state and especially up north. I bet you that the bar owners are not even enforcing it. If they are, I bet business is way off because for many small town bars up north smokers are the majority. And AlwaysLate, I realize no one cares. I just hope that every smoker takes the same stand and we can watch the businesses shutter. The one fact I have observed over the years is that non smokers are as cheap as they come. Lousy tippers of worst class.

Bob Johnson

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 12:56 p.m.

Yahoo yellow pages list 29 bars in Ann Arbor. Do we need to call the others to see how they are doing? How many are really "bars" or "family restaurants that serve alcohol"? The ban people love calling any place with alcohol a "bar", to skewer the numbers in their favor. The real truth won't be seen until it get too cold to remove your gloves to smoke outdoors. Hopefully that will occur before election day.

S Baker

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 12:15 p.m.

How many bar/taverns are there is Ann Arbor? I'm counting that you have based your story on six. I know for a fact you have well over six. When you report the news you should really talk to all establishments or at the least more than six to make such claims. I know...responsibile journalism went out years ago. I call bull!

Sven Gustafson

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 12:09 p.m.

RoboLogic, The shot name isn't fit for publication. But it contains coffee liquer, Bailey's, whipped cream and a cherry, if memory serves. And you're supposed to slurp it out of the ashtray.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 11:47 a.m.

For decades, these businesses have been catering to a minority who smoke. It's not surprising that there's an opportunity now for a vastly improved business climate. It's no more fascist to ban smoking in public places than it is to ban asbestos insulation in the schools or shooting firearms in the streets. A civilized society prevents individuals from harming other individuals. If tobacco were discovered today, there's no doubt it would be a highly illegal and restricted drug.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 11:43 a.m.

@Mark How is anyone supposed to take your comments seriously when the headline statement on the 1st link you provide says, "Smoking bans were single largest contributing factor to worldwide economic meltdown." What a joke. The links you refer to are run by supported by the tobacco industry, so they may be a bit jaded in their reporting. I'm not so sure that the Smokers Club website will present a fair and honest representation of the facts. I think that I'll believe the bar and restaurant owners that I've spoken to. Every place I've been says that they have seen an increase in business or no change at all. The one area where they have seen a decrease is in "nesters." The guys who sit at the bar for hours, smoking cigs and nursing beers, who generally are lousy tippers. Your information is fabricated from smoke and mirrors.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 11:40 a.m.

On behalf of all the non-smoking DJs, I think I can safely say that this makes our jobs easier and more enjoyable. I hated coming home smelling like smoke from 4+ hours at the bar. @MjC, we're happy to have you back at Conor's!

John Q

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 11:34 a.m.

"Did somebody say there is no loss in business when smoking bans are passed??" Thanks for sharing those scientific studies! I had never heard of a bar or restaurant closing until smoking bans went into effect. There's no way that any other factor could have played a role in those places closing.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 11:34 a.m.

@JSA...when a smoker threatens..."It will be a very cold day when I enter a restaurant or bar for a sit down meal/drink." one sheds a tear.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 11:24 a.m.

I can't say for sure, but it appears to me that the no smoking ban has had a negative impact on bowling alleys. The bowling alley in Saline never has cars in front when I drive by.... Does anyone know how the bowling alleys are doing?


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 11:08 a.m.

I was told The Roundtree is seeing a decline in business as a result of the ban.

Thomas Laprade

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 10:56 a.m.

Did somebody say there is no loss in business when smoking bans are passed??


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 10:39 a.m.

Smoking bans destroy businesses and jobs everywhere say otherwise is irresponsible and fraudulent (usually accomplished by cherry-picking data from non-smoking friendly restaurants) 400 Minnesota bars closed after smoking ban More than 3,000 U.K. pubs closed after their smoking ban 2,000+ U.S. hospitality establishments have closed since various local bans went into effect Non-smokers' (who tend to be tea-totalers) visit to establishments for lunch and dinner doesn't make up for revenue losses from smokers because food sales typically are a 10% profit margin, whereas alcohol sales (attributed to smokers) provide a 200-500% mark-up.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 10:35 a.m.

Understand that the smoking ban is simply one group forcing their will on another group. That is fascist in every way. It does not matter who owns the property the dictatorship has spoken. It will be a very cold day when I enter a restaurant or bar for a sit down meal/drink.

sun runner

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 10:21 a.m.

I have given several A2 establishments quite a bit of my money since the smoking ban went into effect, money I would not have spent there if said establishments were still smoke-choked. Ashley's, the Blind Pig, and the 8 Ball Saloon are places I avoided for years because of the smoking there. Not any more!


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 9:20 a.m.

Most knew the economic pattern would be what it is because of other states experiences, so there's no surprise here. I do think it's funny that some places have set up "smoking areas" just outside the front door.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 8:41 a.m.

LOL @ "Ashtrays are used in one of our shots, so we kept them for our shots,"...and this is why I haven't been to the "Jug" in nearly a decade.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 8:39 a.m.

"Great news! Now we need to ban salt, trans fats, extra large portions as well as regulate bicycle riders within city limits. For their safety of course." In this an ad absurdum argument, quite ironically, contains a large grain of truth. As anyone who watches their sodium (salt being the primary source of ingested sodium) intake all too well, it is nearly impossible to stay below the suggested amount of Sodium if one eats processed food. An Apparently healthy breakfast of cornflakes, 1% milk, raspberries, and tomato juice (total = roughly 15% of daily minimum calories) will lead to nearly 40% of maximum healthy sodium intake. Trans Fats serve no purpose but to improve flavor and raise bad cholesterol. They have been all but eliminated from store bought foods. Go to KFC and Micky D's if you need your trans fats--plenty of 'em there. As an avid bike rider, I wish the police would enforce traffic laws rigorously on both automobiles and bike riders. It would be a safer world for all concerned. As for larger portions, as I said, ad absurdum. Good Night and Good Luck


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 8:17 a.m.

I'm so thankful for the smoking ban! My favorite place to go is Connor O'Neils and it was so smoke filled that I stopped going. I'm back now (Irish cheers to all!)

Dan Meisler

Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 7:57 a.m.

"Mass" deleted, thanks donderop.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 7:52 a.m.

Exodus: the departure of a large number of people. Mass exodus: redundant.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 7:45 a.m.

Say it ain't so Pa! The attacks on our "freedoms" surely could not lead to increased profits and a healthier populace! Just as the ban on dove hunting has lead to the "taking" of our guns and the "drill baby drill!" has lead to cleaner beaches, once again the prognostications of the fear mongers has proven to be so much hot air. Common sense can lead to better societies, not to the massacre of the populations in FEMA death camps.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 7:34 a.m.

This was a no brainer. Michigan was so far behind most states on this issue. We will all be healthier, happier and smell better! Glad to hear bar owners indicating it has not hurt business.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 6:33 a.m.

We had to quit going to the "Smoketown" because it reeked so bad. Your clothes and hair would just stink of cigarettes when you got home. We are very happy to to be able to go back now. And we even took the kids to Knight's for dinner. I understand the property rights questions, but really this is a win/win for everyone.


Tue, Jun 1, 2010 : 5:25 a.m.

It is nice to see that things are working out. People will adapt just like they did in Ohio. BTW... someone please tell me what kind of shot/drink uses an ashtray? It sounds gross...but if it is real good...what the heck...LOL.