Mar 062003
 
Authors: Anthea Mustari

Virgil Cline, an ex-smoker and a supporter of business owners’ rights, was in favor of the smoking ban in Fort Collins because he knew it would boost his business.

Cline, a long-time Fort Collins resident and owner of the Farmer’s Table, a breakfast and lunch restaurant, 1035 S. Taft Hill Road, said he knows his revenues will increase drastically when his establishment goes completely non-smoking.

“The reality is that I was in favor because it would increase my business,” Cline said. “I anticipate close to a 20 percent increase once we go totally non-smoking.”

The Farmer’s Table is already a non-smoking establishment on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. Cline said he made the decision to go non-smoking on the weekends a few years ago because of the effects it was having on his business.

“I, too, was a smoker and I was looking at it from a businessman’s standpoint. As a businessman, I’m standing in here on the weekends and I’ve got empty tables on one side and it’s full on the other side,” Cline said, referring to the smoking and non-smoking areas of the restaurant. “What’s wrong with this picture? So, that’s why I said, as a businessman, what percentages are we looking at here?

“When I went non-smoking on the weekends, our business increased drastically and immediately. It’s because these people have gotten their way and I understand a non-smoker’s position. I feel like it’s your responsibility to be very conscientious as to where your smoke goes and how it affects the people sitting next to you.”

However, Cline’s opinions on the issue weren’t always so cut and dry. He initially opposed the ban because of his feelings about a business-owner’s rights.

“Smoking wasn’t the issue with me,” Cline said. “My problem with the whole ordinance had nothing to do with smoking. It had to do with the rights of ownership and being able to run my business as I so see fit. So, it was a rights issue for me and that’s why I opposed it initially.”

Sylvia Marchetti, a smoker who has been a waitress at the Farmer’s Table for four years, opposed the ban. “When they put it to the city council, they decided that non-smokers are the only ones in the country who have rights now,” Marchetti said. “A smoker no longer has any rights. Even if I was a non-smoker, I wouldn’t think it’s fair. I think everybody should have equal rights. That’s what the Constitution says anyway.”

Various patrons at the Farmer’s Table, smokers and non-smokers alike, expressed similar sentiments.

“I was opposed, basically because I think businesses should be able to make their own decisions,” said Lynwood Fiedler, a smoker and a regular at the Farmer’s Table. “We should just let the marketplace take its effect.”

Cline understands where his customers are coming from. “They feel like they should have the right to smoke,” Cline said. “They felt like you can have your side of the building and I can have mine and you’re infringing on my rights as a smoker. And they were partially correct.

“I did tell them, I understand what you’re saying. However, as a businessman, I have to look at the overall picture, and the overall picture is that there are more non-smokers than there are smokers.”

Cline estimated that between 12 and 15 percent of his customers are smokers.

The Farmer’s Table currently allows smoking at 16 of its 26 tables. The other 10 tables, separated by a wall with a cutout doorway, are reserved for non-smoking customers, except on the weekends when the restaurant is completely non-smoking.

“The ones that do smoke sit here and have 10 cups of coffee and 10 cigarettes and I don’t make any money off coffee anyway,” Cline said, “Maybe this will take some of those people and get them up and moving because that’s what makes the business work is the rotation.”

Cline quit smoking in June and said he sees the logic of the new law, as it relates to health issues. “The reality is that this whole thing makes sense,” Cline said. “If only half of what they say about secondhand smoke was true, it makes sense.”

As a former smoker, he expressed concern about people who can’t even eat out without having a cigarette. Cline said diners in his restaurant are there, on average, for 38 minutes.

“I’m the kind of guy that I could go without a cigarette for quite some time and it doesn’t bother me,” Cline said. “Other people come in here and say, ‘Look, if you go non-smoking, I won’t come in here,’ and my response to that is, ‘That’s your choice.’

“I think it’s sad that something has such a grasp on you that you can’t go without a cigarette for an hour out of your day. My God, if you can’t go an hour or a half-hour without a cigarette, you’ve got a problem.

“It shouldn’t become the business owner’s problem to address your problem. A lot of the smokers weren’t smoking for the 38 minutes that they’re here anyways. It’s a psychological thing — that they couldn’t smoke if they wanted to.

“I’ve found that the smokers are slowly but surely accepting this and it’s more the fact that they had little or no voice in it and the other thing, as far as the smokers, is that they’re not willing to admit that it is something they do need to address and they want it to be their decision, not shoved down their throat. I was in the same boat. I didn’t want to address it either.”

Cline is not concerned about his employees’ reactions. “We had several employees that were initially opposed to the ordinance. The majority of my employees are smokers,” Cline said. “I sat all the employees down and we talked about it. I said, ‘Guys, you know, we’re going to do this. It’s going to happen and you might as well get used to it. As a smoker, you are afforded a break, and you can step out in the back and have a cigarette.’

“I guess the stance that I took on it was that if it’s going to be a problem with you, as an employee, then maybe you better look for another job, because we’re going non-smoking. It’s that simple.”

Marchetti said it was more an issue of choice for her, regarding customers and employees alike. “You don’t have to come here. If people don’t want to smoke, they don’t have to go there,” Marchetti said. “If they don’t like the smoke, they don’t have to work in that establishment. There’s plenty of places where they can go. If they were worried about it, they wouldn’t work here.”

Although Cline anticipates the ban will boost his revenues, Fort Collins restaurants can be sure they’ll miss out on one woman’s business.

“I don’t go to places that don’t have smoking,” Marchetti said. “So, when the ordinance passes, I won’t eat out. I eat out five nights a week now, so that’s a lot of dollars that will be gone.”

Going completely smoke-free was a much better option, for Cline, than creating completely separated smoking and non-smoking areas and installing ventilation systems, something the council discussed in the earlier phases of the ordinance.

“It wasn’t viable at all, the economics of that,” Cline said. “In a lot of places, such as this one here, it was basically an improbability. When I checked into the expense of adding a ventilation system, it would have taken me another 10 years to pay it off.”

Although the new Fort Collins law doesn’t require restaurants, such as the Farmer’s Table, to become completely smoke-free until October 1, 2003, Cline has opted to make the transition early. The Farmer’s Table will be a completely non-smoking establishment as of July 1.

“We’re doing it as of July 1. There will be no smoking, period, anywhere. As crazy as it sounds, in July, all the kids are out of school and that affords me the ability to hire these kids to help me wash walls,” Cline said. “Where, in October, they’ll all be back in school, doing their thing, and so I have the staff available in July.”

He wants to be able to wash the walls, do some ceiling repairs and other cleaning projects to get the smoky odor out of the restaurant before he goes completely non-smoking.

Cline doesn’t think the ordinance will cause much of an uproar for long. “I personally think that you’re going to see an attitude change in everybody,” he said. “Once it settles in, about this time next year, nobody will give smoking, or not smoking, a thought. If they’re going to go out to eat, they’ll go out to eat.

“The same person that sits here and bitches because they can’t smoke while they eat will go get on an airplane and ride to China for 10 hours and never give it a thought,” Cline said. “It’s just a matter of getting accustomed to it, just like we did on airplanes. They bitched and moaned initially and now, as the new wore off of that, then they accepted it.”

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