Local bar owners get creative in coping with restrictions of new state law
When the State of Wisconsin’s ban on smoking in public places went into effect July 5, it marked a red-letter day for Randy Buser, who has owned the Grand Avenue Saloon in Port Washington since 1982.
“We put in a patio and landscaping and the work was completed on the day the smoking ban went into effect,” Buser said.
“It took three or four months to get everything squared away with the city and get the work done, but we knew if we were going to do anything we wanted to do it right.”
Like Buser, bar owners across the state have been scrambling to come up with ways to keep customers happy while complying with the stringent requirements of the law.
According to the ban, the owners of businesses that qualify as public places are subject to fines of $100 a day if they allow smoking in their establishments. Businesses must be given a warning before fines are levied.
Taverns are prohibited from providing matches or ashtrays to patrons, and “no smoking” signs must be posted. However, the number of smoking citations a business receives cannot be used against an owner when a municipality considers renewal of liquor licenses.
Patrons may be fined between $100 and $250 for smoking in bars, restaurants or other public places.
Smokers must be asked to refrain from their nicotine habit inside places of business. If they continue to puff away, police are to be called to enforce the law.
Buser said the 900-square-foot patio added to the west side of his bar sent a welcoming message to customers who might be put off by the smoking ban.
The patio includes a dozen tables, a bank of bar tables and stools and some decorative pavers and landscaping.
“What we are saying with the patio is ‘We value your business and we want to keep you as customers,’” Buser said.
The downside of outside seating is that it is subject to the elements, which has already become clear to Buser.
“Since the patio was done, it has generally been hot or raining, but people seem to appreciate having a place to go out for a smoke,” he said.
“I have already had customers asking if we are going to be offering drink service on the patio. At this point, customers are expected to come in and get their drinks. I would love to be so busy on the patio I could justify having someone working out there.”
Buser said adding the outside service area complies with the smoking ban, but created a new headache.
“We added a security camera so we can keep an eye on what is going on out there. It is something I felt we just had to do,” he said.
Ten years ago, Buser added a sophisticated air-filtering system to his bar so smoke wouldn’t be so bothersome to non-smoking
“It wasn’t cheap, and that money is pretty much wasted now, because there can’t be any smoking indoors,” he said.
Fredonia bar owner Fritz Buchholtz, who has owned Mr. Fritz’s for almost five years, said he anticipated the smoking ban well in advance and planned accordingly.
“People told me the state ban would never go into effect, but I knew it was coming,” Buchholtz said.
He added seating, a television and sound system to the 50-foot-long deck that was added to the east side of the bar two years ago.
The deck looks out over green space and horseshoe pits.
“I think it turned out to be one of the prettiest areas around,” Buchholtz said.
“There are days when I’ll come into the bar and there will be nobody sitting at the bar, but all sorts of cars out front. Then I’ll look out, and everybody will be sitting on the deck. We had crowds of people out there during the World Cup.”
Even non-smokers head toward the deck, showing solidarity with the smoking patrons, he said.
When the weather turns cooler, Buchholtz said he already has plans. He will install propane gas heaters and plastic sheeting to screen the wind.
Buchholtz said the fallout from the state smoking ban has been minimal at his tavern.
“On the day it went into effect, I had one woman storm out when I told her she couldn’t smoke here. She was yelling at me like the ban was my idea. But generally, people have been very understanding,” he said.
Buchholtz said he has never smoked, but is no supporter of the state smoking ban.
“I believe people should have the right to make their own mistakes. As my father said, ‘That is the price of freedom,’” he said.
In anticipation of the smoking ban, Saukville bar owner Robert Brooks is adding a deck and open-air shelter to the west side of the
Railroad Station bar.
The addition was carefully planned to comply with the state law, which allows enclosed smoking areas, provided they have no more than two substantial walls. An overhead garage-like door was included to give access to the sheltered area.
RANDY AND LINDA BUSER (above) toasted the completion of their 900-square-foot patio at the Grand Avenue Saloon in Port Washington. The couple said they created the outdoor setting to remind patrons their business is still welcomed, despite the statewide smoking ban for public places. At left, work is nearly complete on a deck and open-air shelter addition to the Railroad Station bar in Saukville. Photos by Mark Jaeger