About 10 business owners attended a meeting Monday to discuss how to combat a proposed smoking ban by the city of Macon.
“We do have a voice -- it’s time to stand up and exercise it,” said Tim Obelgoner, general manager of the Hummingbird Stage and Taproom in downtown Macon, where the meeting was held. “(The smoking ban) would be detrimental to our business at a time we don’t need it to be. We are struggling for every dollar we can make. We are struggling for every job we can create.”
The gathering attracted a total of about 25 to 30 people. When asked how many were business owners, about 10 raised their hands. Several attendees were smoking during the event.
Although efforts are being made to revitalize Macon and bring in new jobs and businesses, existing businesses are already suffering because of the economy and a smoking ban would hurt them even more, Obelgoner said.
An earlier smoking ban passed by Macon City Council was vetoed by Mayor Robert Reichert, and council failed to override the veto. Supporters planned to bring up a revised version but decided to wait until after a public forum to do so. That forum was held Sept. 22, and the smoking ban is now expected to come before the city’s Public Safety Committee this month.
Chris McCalla, legislative director of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers, told the attendees there were some things they could do to fight the possible smoking ban. He said the government was supposed to represent them and that part of that process was to get council to understand what they want. For example:
Talk to council members about what the ban would do to their businesses.
Get customers involved and get them to sign petitions. “Get enough people talking about this ... council will think twice,” McCalla said.
Attend council meetings. “You need to show up in numbers.”
A smoking ban will hurt businesses and hurt the government because revenue will go down, McCalla said.
“If it’s such a good idea, why aren’t more businesses non-smoking,” he said.
Clay Murphey, director of external affairs for the city of Macon, attended the event, but no council members were present.
Ben Dickson, owner of 20’s Pub at Riverside and Northside drives, said after the meeting 85 percent of his customers were smokers, but they still supported a recent fundraiser for breast cancer, raising $5,740.
If the ban passes, “it may shut me down,” Dickson said. “I have 10 employees and that’s the only job they’ve got.”
Dickson said he attends most of the City Council meetings and plans to continue doing that.
Ernie Shepherd, owner of Whiskey River on Pio Nono Avenue in Macon, also said after the 30 minute presentation Monday that the existing smoking ban -- which doesn’t allow places that serve people younger than 18 to have smoking -- is not enforced, and that a new ban would kill business.
“Either the city wants our business or not,” Shepherd said. “They know absolutely nothing about what goes on in our businesses.”
Shepherd said he’s been in the same business for 30 years and has never seen but one of the 15 council members come into his establishment.
“People should have a choice,” he said. “Why does the council want to become our decision maker? I think that’s totally wrong.”
Although Shepherd said he fought hard for the mayor’s veto of the earlier smoking ban, he doesn’t plan to attend upcoming council meetings.
“It does not do any good,” he said. “I don’t care how many people show up.”
Shepherd, who smoked for 25 years, quit about 20 years ago after having bypass surgery. He had asked the doctor about the dangers of second-hand smoke and said he was told “as long as you can get in and get out sometimes, it won’t be a problem for you, and it hasn’t been.”
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223. Staff writer Jim Gaines contributed to this report.