Councilwoman apologizes for Elkhart city smoking ban, plans changes

By: Ryan Famuliner Email
By: Ryan Famuliner Email

You may have thought the debate was over, but city leaders in Elkhart are again talking about their controversial smoking ban.

One of the city council members who voted for the smoking ban in the first place has apologized for what she calls ‘a mistake.’

A month after the smoking ban went into full effect, councilwoman Mary Olson says it needs to be amended.

The ban passed 9-0 almost 13 months ago. It's the strictest ban in our area; bars are not exempt as they are in most other ordinances.

Olson’s now worried it may drive some Elkhart bars and restaurants out of business.

“We unfortunately on this issue failed, we are going to redo it if my hopes and dreams come true even the playing field,” Olson said.

Olson brought the issue of the smoking ban back up to her fellow council members at this week's meeting, and invited local restaurant owners to share their struggles.

“We have several that have let all their wait staff go, they’re being run by single owners… I'm not sure that any community should have legislators that seek to cut the legs off businesses, it doesn’t feel right in my heart,” Olson said.

Poor Tony's is one of the 21 and over establishments that had the exemption that held the ban off until last month.

They say they saw a $5,000 drop in revenue since June 15th.

“That’s a pretty good chunk for us because we're such a small business because every penny counts… I just hope that they rethink it and maybe revise it,” said Poor Terry’s owner Ann Zimmerman.

Meantime, county officials who were pivotal in getting the ban passed are disappointed.

“We went through two administrations and several public hearings, and I don’t think it would be fair to just overturn all that work in a short period of time,” said Richard Pedler with Tobacco Control of Elkhart County.

He says a month isn't long enough to weigh the impact, and that owners need to have a little more patience.

“Once the newness of (the ban) wears off, I think business will return to at least what it was before the ordinance went into effect… You can’t really get a true feel for what's going on until at least a year has passed,” Pedler said.

But that's if the businesses can survive that long…

“If this lasts another 6 months we're going to be closed, and it’s not just us,” Zimmerman said.

The restaurant and bar owners that spoke at Monday’s council meeting said they'd seen drop in business anywhere from 30% to 75%.

Olson says she'd like to get an exemption for 21 and over establishments in place in the ordinance as soon as possible.

She says the council seemed receptive to at least looking at the issue. She plans to introduce an amendment at the council’s first July meeting, and hopefully have something ready for a vote by August 1st.

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