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New smoking ban dampens sales

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

STATEWIDE Oregon’s new workplace smoking ban is a big reason why lottery and video poker sales in bars and restaurants dropped 20% in January and 15% in February compared to the same time last year, according to the Oregon Restaurant Association.

Sales in general are down 8%, but for some establishments the new law, which was effective Jan. 1, has exacerbated the loss of business caused by the recession, says Bill Perry, ORA director of government affairs.

Four months into the law, the Crow Bar in North Portland says it has seen an exodus of its smoking patrons. About 25% of the bar’s clientele before the ban was smokers, says bar owner Joshua Wilson. “I didn’t expect the drop to be as dramatic as it has been,” he says. “The hard-core clientele like to drink and smoke at the same time.”

Wilson declines to say how much business he’s lost. But since the ban he says he has seen a slight increase on the weekends in food sales and top-shelf drinks. “If you don’t have a patio, you are going to lose all the smokers,” Wilson says.

Having a covered patio area with electric heaters is proving to be a boon for the Florida Room, located in North Portland about a mile from the Crow Bar. The last two months have been some of the busiest ever, says Suzy Day, co-owner of the bar. Smokers “were pretty much the base of our clientele,” she says.

The bar already had outdoor seating in front, but a year before the law went into effect owners made plans to add an awning.

Wilson says he doesn’t have the space to build a patio. He’s hoping lost customers eventually return as he learned they did at bars in other states with a similar law, such as Washington and California.

Perry says it’s the “tavern style” bars with minimal beer and food choices that stand to get most hurt by the new law. “I just think people are going to have to get more diversified,” he says.   

JASON SHUFFLER

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