Sunday, January 20, 2008

The first IL business to close up shop due to a smoking ban

I'm not surprised this happened. But it still counts as the first business to get victimized by a IL smoking ban.


Seven Days in Chicago

All Butts Are Off

UPDATE: As the January 1 deadline loomed, bars and restaurants throughout the city braced for the inevitable. The New Year brought with it new rules: No smoking in any establishment in which food, beverage or liquor is sold. For most, the smoking ban presented a mild annoyance, a slight affront to our ever-eroding liberties. For others, the ban signaled the end of the line. Opened by tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. in 2006, Marshall McGearty's, the nation's first smoking lounge, was the also the new legislationÕs first casualty. The establishment closed quietly on January 14. It will not reopen.

"It was very evident right after January 1 that this wasn't going to work," says Mark Smith, Vice President of Communications at Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, a subsidiary of Reynolds American Inc. Smith's company took over Reynolds American super premium brand unit (under which Marshall McGearty's is included) from another of the company's subsidiaries, RJ Reynolds, just days before the ban went into effect. The decision to move operations of the super premium brand was described by RJ Reynolds' spokesperson David Howard as a business decision motivated entirely by the fact that Santa Fe, makers of the popular American Spirit brand, had more in-depth marketing experience. It seems, however, that no amount of marketing experience can save a smoking lounge in a city where smoking is prohibited.

"I stopped in last week and it was just a bunch of people standing around smoking and drinking this shitty coffee that they were giving away," says a one-time Marshall McGearty's regular. "I don't even think they were playing any music. It was totally bizarre." As Howard indicated during a phone interview conducted in mid-December, the establishment planned to cease sales of food and liquor on January 1 and begin operating strictly as a tobacco retail shop. The cessation of all other sales would bring Marshall McGearty's in line with the new law meaning that tobacco could still be dispensed and consumed on premise. For a moment, it looked as if a coup were underway. Howard refused to comment on the question of a prospective BYOB policy responding "All I'm saying is that we will no longer be selling liquor." A McGearty's bartender laughed when asked if the impending ban was a source of worry responding: "Nah, we got it covered. I think we may start doing BYOB, but I don't know." Marshall McGearty's was clearly testing the theory that smokers in a post-ban world would be so desperate, they wouldn't mind trading some traditional points of service for permission to light up.

"Didn't work," says Smith. He went on to say that in light of legislation being passed here and in practically all other major cities, Reynolds American Inc. has no plans to open similar lounges in the future. "Right now we're concentrating on distribution in retail markets," Smith says.

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