Smoking ban would dull OP's competitive edge

Opinion

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We, the undersigned restaurants, businesses owners and taxpayers of Oak Park are opposed to the proposed changes to Oak Park's smoking regulations that would further restrict the use of tobacco products in Oak Park restaurants. As you know, Oak Park currently restricts the use of tobacco in restaurants to allow for those restaurants with more than 40 seats to designate and enforce a specific non-smoking area.

Further, the ordinance allows for the proprietor, operator or manager to prohibit smoking entirely. According to data from the Oak Park Health Department, almost 70 percent of eating establishments in Oak Park have voluntarily chosen the latter. We are pleased that some of us have chosen this route based on our business and customer needs.

However, to remove this opportunity from all restaurants and injure some businesses in Oak Park is short-sighted. For the collective group of businesses undersigned, this issue is not about smoking. It is about whether the village truly understands what it takes to be competitive in a global marketplace while meeting the challenging demands of operating a business and keeping people employed with significantly increased regulatory pressures.

Just as the village seeks to provide varying high-quality and professional governmental services for a diverse community of residents and visitors within specified financial constraints, Oak Park restaurateurs and businesses attempt to do the same. However, increased operational pressures such as the state's recent increase in the minimum wage, skyrocketing property taxes, licenses and other fee increases, double digit health care premiums, increased workers' compensation rates, utility taxes and Oak Park's recent liquor tax increase, all impact restaurants significantly. For most restaurants and small businesses, operating profit margins are very slim.

These costs do not reflect the severe damage that a new 2 percent food and beverage tax currently being considered by Cook County would have on our businesses as a result of less people choosing to dine out. The competitive marketplace does not afford us the opportunity to increase menu prices accordingly.

Restaurants have become the industry driving the revitalization of communities nationwide and especially in Oak Park. There is no refuting that the vibrancy of our eating establishments in Oak Park has led to the resurgence of our business districts and in turn, increased foot traffic and retail opportunities for other business. Tourists and international visitors come to Oak Park to experience the rich history of our community.

Many of us, along with other retailers and developers have been attracted to or remain in Oak Park for its unique demographic composition. We have made significant personal and financial investments in our respective businesses. We believe that the passage of this ordinance will hurt some of our restaurants, our livelihoods and this investment. If some of our businesses suffer, so will our employees and their families.

We respectfully ask that you look around, and see the burgeoning competition in neighboring communities. Then look to other communities like Evanston, Arlington Heights and Wheeling, all with similar vibrant downtown centers and thriving restaurants, and understand why their governmental leaders listened to their business owners and employee concerns and chose not to adopt a smoking ban.

For Oak Park to adopt an ordinance that in any way hinders the entrepreneurial and business spirit and growth of our collective businesses is short-sighted and will be contrary to the notion that the Village of Oak Park is a great place to live, work and run a business.

Al's Grill, Buona's Beef, Cafe LeCoq (smoke-free
restaurant), Cafe Winberie, Chef's Cookwear, Cozy Corner, Cucina Paradiso, Fuego Loco, George's Restaurant, LaBella Pasteria, Lalo's, Law offices of Angelika Kuhen, Leona's, Maple Tree, Marion Street Grill (smoke-free restaurant), Oak Park Area Convention & Tourism Bureau, Oak Park Cigar, Papaspiros Greek Taverna, Philander's, Poor Phil's, Robinson's Ribs (smoke-free restaurant), T.G.I Friday's, The Avenue Ale House,
The Carelton Hotel, The Lake Room, Thyme & Honey

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