Hundreds Rally to Ban the Ban

By: Becky Hillier
By: Becky Hillier

"I would really like some of the Johnny come lately do gooders on our city council to give us our city back," says Marsh Shapiro, owner of the Nitty Gritty.

Hundreds of business owners, employees, and patrons flooded downtown Madison Tuesday evening in an attempt to ban the city's smoking ban.

It was a spirited crowd that came out in the hot sun to turn up the heat on city council members to repeal the smoking ban. And there is passion on both sides of the issue.

"There will be businesses locked and shuttered and people without jobs next spring," says Shapiro.

It's a dire prediction from a man who's been in business in Madison for nearly 40 years.

"I used to love this city, but I don't love it so much anymore," Shapiro adds.

The love lost between business owners and the city came to a head with the implementation of the citywide smoking ban July 1st.

"My business personally is down 33 percent in July," says Joe Klinzing. Klinzing is part of the Coalition to Save Madison Jobs and the owner of the South Bay Lounge and Grill. He says his sales have plummeted and he expects it to get worse heading into the fall pool and dart league season.

"We don't have those numbers of people coming in to sign up at our establishments... We need a lifeline here and the only way we can see to get that right now is a complete repeal of the ban," adds Klinzing.

"I would ask them how much is one life worth," says Lisa Davidson. Davidson belongs to the Coalition to Save Madison Lungs.

For those who support the ban, it is first and foremost a public health issue, and Davidson believes it has widespread support in the city. "This is a strong public health policy that the people have asked for several times and that policy is now in effect, and we're pleased that the people are reaping the health benefits of that," she says.

The Ocean Grill is just a block away from the protest. It's been smoke free since it opened its doors two and a half years ago. The general manager tells us they enjoy a brisk business and he favors the ban. "We embrace it and I think it's something that's good for the community and definitely good for everybody's health," says Rick Duarte.

Joe Klinzing says he understands the public health issue, but his primary concern, like so many other business owners, is a healthy bottom line. "We've got a lot of jobs, hundreds of jobs that have been lost already... We want a full repeal of the current ban."

Some members of the city council have proposed a public vote on the ban in a Spring Advisory Referendum. The referendum would include a "hardship clause" for businesses that claim to be hurting because of the ban.

The common council will discuss the proposed referendum at its September 6th meeting.

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