They stand huddled in doorways along Madison and shivering on the sidewalks from the Green Line all the way to Roosevelt. They leave the warmth of the indoors to brave the blustering cold.
They are smokers.
And the first day of the New Year will mark the one-year anniversary of their exile from all public establishments throughout the state – that is, when they want to light up.
Many agree there are positive aspects to the smoking ban – smoke-free air and clothing, no ashtrays to clean. Nevertheless, opinions on its effect on business at local bars are divided.
Brian Kaczmar, owner of Kazzbarr on Madison, represents one end of the spectrum. Kaczmar is unequivocally against the ban, which, he said has caused him a drastic decline in revenue.
“It’s definitely hurt my business,” he said. “My weekends are down 20 percent and my weekdays are down 40 to 45 percent.”
According to Kaczmar, this downturn is in direct correlation to the ban, which has deterred many of his regulars.
“These are guys that have been coming here for years and years, and they would spend hours here,” he said. “Smoking, drinking and casual talking go hand-in-hand, especially for a lot of the older guys.”
As president of the Forest Park Liquor Association, Kaczmar said there is a consensus among local bar owners that the state law should be repealed, or some compromise short of an outright ban reached. He said some owners have suggested there be an option to buy a special license that would allow smoking inside their place of business.
“We’re all in agreement that it has to change; it’s killing everyone,” he said.
But not everyone shares Kaczmar’s view.
A bartender at Doc Ryan’s on Madison, Carol Schmitt, said though the ban hurt business at first, regulars there have become accustomed to stepping outside for a smoke.
Lindsay Stupar, who works down the street at O’Sullivan’s, doesn’t deny that business is slower than in previous years, but points to a different factor: the economy.
As for the ban, she said that most people, even smokers, are happy about it.
“There’s a big difference in the cleanliness of the bar,” she said. “Also, people don’t smoke as much so they save money on cigarettes.”
Bob Shirreffs has tended bar at Hideaway on Roosevelt for the last 20 years. He echoed Stupar’s claim that customers say they’re smoking less as a result of the ban.
Moreover, Shirreffs said he doesn’t believe the ban has had any effect on business.
“I’ve had no complaints,” Shirreffs said. “[The smokers] have no choice so they go with the flow.”
But not every bar patron is as easygoing as Shirreffs describes his customers to be.
Dan Hernandez, standing just outside of Doc Ryan’s smoking a cigar Friday afternoon, calls the ban “un-American.”
He admits it’s nice to not smell smoke each time he steps into a bar, he said he doesn’t agree with the government telling business owners what to do.