Smoke-shacks go up as winter loomsSome local bar owners react to smoking ban - and coming winter cold - by building shelters for smoking patrons.
By: Tu-Uyen Tran, Grand Forks Herald
There’s been a kind of construction boom in Grand Forks lately, but you’d miss it unless you dropped by your local bar.
Workers have been putting up smoking shelters, preparing for the bone-chilling months ahead — the first winter smoking has been banned in Grand Forks bars.
Out behind Joe Black’s downtown, they’re building a shelter with outdoor heaters, big enough for 25, said Denny Blackmun, one of the owners. It could accommodate more, but because the city’s ban requires smokers to be 15 feet away from any doorway, only 40 percent of the area under the roof is usable.
It’s hard to tell if customers will use it, and none have asked about it, Blackmun said, but he can’t afford to make customers feel like they have to go elsewhere.
At McMenamy’s Tavern, though, Mike McMenamy has heard plenty about the new shelter he’s putting up. “They’re real happy about it — not as happy as they’d be as they’d be if they can smoke inside!”
He said he’s lost customers as a result of the ban, and some just don’t stay as long as before.
The ban, in effect since Aug. 15, allowed bar owners to build smoking shelters. Most bar owners haven’t bothered until now because the fall has been so kind to the smoking-and-drinking crowd.
So far, 14 bars have requested permission to build smoking shelters from the city’s building inspections office, inspections chief Bev Collings said. That’s out of a total of 29 bars in town with Class 1 alcohol licenses — those are the ones that can serve beer and liquor and sell them to take home.
The Big Sioux truck stop also has requested permission, she said.
Many bar owners were not very happy when the smoking ban went into effect because they feared it would cost customers and money. The City Council passed the ban because a survey found overwhelming support for ending exemptions for bars, truck stops and bowling alleys.
Three months in, the ban has added another line item to bars’ budgets.
Collings said the smoking shelters approved from her office have ranged from $1,000 all the way to $50,000. At the top end of the scale are places such as Borrowed Bucks and the Big Sioux, mostly because those places want large shelters that blend in better with the rest of their buildings.
On the lower end of the scale is Joe Black’s, which is building its shelter in the back.
Some bars, Collings said, probably can’t build a shelter even if they wanted to because there’s no space for a shelter where they’re located. One bar, for instance, is on the second floor of a building, she said.
City law says that a smoking shelter may have a roof and half of its perimeter covered, meaning they can’t be fully enclosed. This could mean two walls, or it could mean, as is the case with Joe Black’s, four walls with the top and bottom parts left out so there’d be coverage mostly for the average smoker’s thighs and torso, but not shins or heads.
McMenamy, while no fan of the law, credits the city with being especially proactive about going to bars and helping ensure shelter designs obey the law. The city could’ve just made bars bring in designs and dictate changes without seeing the actual construction site, he said.
His shelter should be done in a week or so, he said.
Blackmun said he thought it’d take him a week to get the paperwork through, and it turned out to be 15 days. “It’s not really that bad.”
The shelter should be done today, he said, though he doubts any of the smokers that hang outside in front of the bar, where they’re used to going, will head back to the shelter until the temperature hits about 10 degrees or so.
Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.