Clayton’s proposed smoking ban faces a fight

The following story details opposition to the proposed Clayton smokefree air ordinance, being organized by Frank Schmitz, who owns Barcelona Tapas Restaurant in Clayton. A hearing of business owners is scheduled for May 12 at Clayton City Hall. Expect more vocal opposition based on dire predictions of lost business and closings. There are plenty of opposition comments following the on-line Post-Dispatch story here.

By Margaret Gillerman

CLAYTON — The leader of a group of Clayton restaurant owners says he fears “the die is cast” for city officials to enact a smoking ban and is rallying other restaurateurs to make their strongest effort to block it.

Frank Schmitz, leader of the Clayton Restaurateurs Alliance, told his fellow restaurateurs in an e-mail Monday that it appeared “the mayor and aldermen are going to push this through.”

“We only have limited time to make a strong point … and let them know about the very uncertain economic impact this will have on the city and its reputation as a dining and entertainment destination.”

The mayor insists a ban is “not a done deal.”

Schmitz, who owns Barcelona Tapas Restaurant in Clayton, said in an interview that despite his dire warnings Monday, “all is not lost.”

“It looks like a done deal, but we have a lot of fight left in this community,” he said. “I am rallying our troops.”

He said that rather than arguing health issues, as smoke-free advocates do, “we have an economic argument.”

And in case that doesn’t work, Schmitz said, he will meet today with a lawyer to explore legal options.

The proposed ban would prohibit smoking indoors in public places.

Residents, some organized as a new group calling itself “Smoke-Free Clayton,” crowded into City Hall last week to tell Mayor Linda Goldstein and the Board of Aldermen they strongly support the ban, largely for health reasons. They urged Clayton officials to lead the way among local municipalities.

A hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 12 at City Hall for the city to hear from Schmitz and other Clayton business owners, their representatives and people who work in Clayton. Restaurant and bar owners who oppose going smoke-free say a ban could force their businesses to shut down. The city has about 80 restaurants or restaurant/bars. (The city does not allow bars to operate without serving food.) About 26 restaurants with liquor licenses are actively fighting the ban, Schmitz said.

Goldstein has insisted that the ban is “not a done deal,” and she and the aldermen want to carefully consider all positions. “We want to be very, very inclusive,” she said at last week’s hearing.

Goldstein also noted that 77 percent of residents who responded to a survey said they favored a smoking ban even if no other jurisdictions pass one.

“Our community has expressed strong support for a smoking ban regardless of what the county or state does,” she said. “Most residents tell us they prefer clean air and want a smoking ban.”

The Board of Aldermen may vote May 26.

A strong advocate of the smoke-free ordinance is former mayor and alderman Ben Uchitelle, who pushed Clayton’s pioneering smoking ordinance in 1988. One of its main provisions was to require large restaurants to set aside a quarter of their space as nonsmoking.

Uchitelle said he heard many of the same arguments against restricting smoking at that time.

He said there were dire warnings that “no new restaurants would ever come to Clayton.”

That, of course, has not happened, he said.

So far, Ballwin is the only municipality in St. Louis County that has a ban. The issue has been raised at the county level, but its prospects appear slim. And a proposal for a smoking ban in St. Louis calls for it to take effect if the county passes one.

If there’s a ban in Clayton, Schmitz said, “people who come out to bars and want to smoke will not choose us. They’ll choose a place five minutes away, and our businesses will suffer. That’s the main issue.

“If we do not get a ban everywhere — in the whole county and downtown, Clayton will suffer,” he said.

Schmitz added: “If we were all on the same playing field, I would happily support a smoking ban.”

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