The owners of more than three dozen restaurants and bars in St. Louis County filed into the County Council chambers in Clayton today with one request - please let us continue to allow smoking.
The owners were there at the request of Councilman Mike O'Mara, who's introduced a bill eliminating nearly all the exemptions in the county's smoking ban. Currently, bars that make less than 25 percent of their revenue from food may receive an exemption. Bowling alleys and casino gaming floors are also exempt.
Toni Downs, the owner of Dellwood Lounge in North County, told O'Mara a often-repeated story.
"I don't serve food," she said. "No kids are allowed. The majority of the people that come into my bar are probably 35-40 on up, and they like to smoke. And I know that this would hurt me. This is my livelihood. I don't have another job."
Marty Ginsburg, the owner of The Sports Page in Chesterfield, was one of the few owners who spoke in favor of O'Mara's proposal, calling it a matter of fairness.
"You're got places in your 135 exemptions like Hotshots," Ginsburg said. "There's no way that a Hotshots is doing a million dollars a year in sales for a store, and only $250,000 in food." He encouraged O'Mara to simply lower the food exemption to single digits.
O'Mara said after the meeting he's open to a possible compromise.
"And if it’s an exemption, some format that we can put together that keeps them in business," he said. "That’s why we’ve got to look at the stats."
O'Mara said nothing will happen with the legislation until late spring - after he's had a chance to do more research and talk to the county health department about apparent differences in enforcement.
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