Volume 73, Number 48 | March 31 - April 6, 2004

Some bar owners are still fuming over smoking ban

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Some local bar owners blasted Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s announcement that his year-old smoking ban has not hurt business in the city’s bars and restaurants.

On March 29, Bloomberg celebrated the anniversary of the ban by announcing that business tax receipts filed by bars and restaurants were up 8.7 from April 1, 2003, to January 31, 2004, compared with the same period the previous year.

But some nightspot proprietors called that comparison flawed, since the data does not show the smoking ban’s impact on bars alone. By combining the whole hospitality industry, the bar business appears to get a boost whenever a new Starbucks opens, said David Rabin, president of the New York Nightlife Association and an owner of Lotus, a nightclub on W. 14th St.

Another problem with the data, Rabin said, was that the 8.7 jump came as the restaurant and bar business began to bounce back from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack. Such an increase would only be expected after the dramatic dip in business post-9/11, he explained.

“2002 is a horrendous year — to compare this year’s results to last year’s is patently absurd,” Rabin said.

But a spokesperson for the city Dept. of Finance said the nightlife industry should be pleased that the ban did not live up to bar owners’ predictions of 30 or 40 percent profit losses and widespread layoffs.

“They were basically predicting gloom and doom and they were wrong,” said Sam Miller, the spokesperson.
Miller said the city could not accurately measure the impact of the smoking ban on bars alone, since most bars serve food and some small bar owners identify themselves as restaurants on tax forms.

Rabin said the smoking ban has particularly hurt smaller bars and pubs. Dave McWater, the owner of four neighborhood bars on Avenue A, agreed. Although he declined to specify exactly how the ban had affected his bottom line, McWater said that until it began he had never experienced a month without growth.

McWater said the ban hurt his businesses more than he expected, but that he had enough resources to weather the dip in revenues.

Eric Petterson, a partner in the Coffee Shop at Union Square, said his beverage sales were actually up five percent since the smoking ban started, compared with the previous year. He explained that since his business was 55 percent food and 45 percent drink, the ban might not affect it as much as it would a pure bar.

Petterson said one negative consequence of the ban has been that his staff must devote more time and effort now to cleaning cigarette butts off the sidewalk.

“But that’s just the nature of the beast,” Petterson said.

McWater and Rabin both voiced concern about the increase in noise complaints that have accompanied the smoking ban as patrons light up outside. This noise has stiffened community resistance to supporting liquor-licensed premises in their neighborhoods, and this will ultimately make it much harder for young entrepreneurs to open bars, they said.

“I think it’s a very, very dangerous trend, and it’s directly related to the mayor’s ban,” Rabin said.

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