County Commissioner Tom Mercer, architect of the local indoor smoking ban, has said all along that he believes, overall, the ban will improve business in the county even as it improves health. The only businesses he's worried about suffering a drop in traffic are places that are more bar-oriented.
Never mind that Columbia County's alcohol ordinance is designed to make sure such businesses are restaurants that serve alcohol, not bars that pretend to serve food. That's an argument for another day. There always will be some places that are more pub-oriented than others.
There are only a handful fitting that description in Columbia County: Rack and Grill, Sidetrack Grill, Finish Line Cafe, Backyard Tavern and Little River Roadhouse. All of them are non-chain restaurants, owned by local businessmen or women, which already puts them at a slight disadvantage to the big chain outfits. (Just ask my friends Tom and Susan Werner, who gave up on Twisted Chicken Cafe last year.)
There often is a higher percentage of smokers among the clientele patronizing these neighborhood-style businesses, and as a story by Preston Sparks in today's News-Times reports, these places seem to be getting hit pretty hard as the tobacco addicts find somewhere else to inhale noxious fumes.
This should be worrisome -- not so much for smokers, who hate the ordinance anyway, but for those of us happy that Columbia County is now one big non-smoking section.
Of all the arguments against the smoking ban, the biggest was perhaps the fear that it would hurt business. Those of us favoring the ban disagreed; the statistical evidence shows that business overall at least stays flat or even improves after smoking bans have been enacted around the country.
But there are exceptions to every rule, and a rising tide in the "overall" business climate won't necessarily keep individual spots from sinking. It certainly would make us all look bad if a formerly thriving business went under because the ban snuffed out the clientele along with the cigarettes.
To keep this from happening, every non-smoker in Columbia County has a job to do:
Specifically, eat out at one of the above restaurants. You may have ridden past one or more of them at some point and wanted to try it, but chose not to because you thought it may be too cloudy inside.
Well, it's time to come on in; the air is fine. Smokers have been evicted, and you'd be surprised at how good the food is. The Sidetrack has some of the best hamburgers on the planet, for example, and I've heard the Little River Roadhouse cooks a great steak. (It's out in Leah; that's a few miles past Pollards Corner, for those of you who've missed out on traveling to the northern end of the county.)
In all of these restaurants before the smoking ban, everything came with a side order of cancer. Now the air is clean. And if all of us would show our appreciation by patronizing these local businesses, we'll have clean consciences, too.
I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I do know words. A friend, however, has stumped me. She writes with this question:
"The word is 'cinner-cuak,' as in 'cinnercuak business.' The word isn't in the dictionary. Google comes up with nothing. It is used in a 1922 land deed that restricts the use of alcohol, bars, and cinnercuak business of any kind. What does cinnercuak mean? It is driving me crazy until I find out."
I've had no success tracking it down, either. If anyone has a clue, let me know. Otherwise I'll have to make something up.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimes online.com.)
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