The question of a smoking ban in Oak Park in recent months has shifted from “if” to “when” a law might be passed. Monday night the village board added a new wrinkle: how much time to grant restaurants as a phase-in period once a smoke-free law is approved.

“I am not going to oppose the implementation of a smoking ban,” said Spiro Papageorge, owner of Papaspiros, 733 Lake St., and a staunch opponent of the ban when it first surfaced a year ago.

“It is important to have a phase-in time so that the smoking restaurants can adjust our business plans,” Papageorge told the board, asking them to consider a phase-in that would stretch past the holiday season.

“Those few of us who still allow smoking are larger in size and we have used separate areas for our smoking sections,” said Papageorge, whose restaurant has a
below-ground smoking section. “We now have to find new ways to use those spaces.”

Time for remodeling is also needed for larger restaurants with bars, said Michael Pace, owner of La Bella and The Avenue Ale House, after the meeting. Pace is hoping for a year-long phase-in for remodeling to de-emphasize the bar business.

Pointing to slumping bar sales at Poor Phil’s since colder weather came in the fall and the outdoor smoking section was closed, Pace said, “That’s just an indication of what’s to come.”

The discussion Monday night began with Village President David Pope reading a memo he wrote to the board to give direction to implementing a smoke-free ordinance. The memo calls for skipping re-discussion of the pros and cons of a ban, as “significant documentation” exists “concerning the arguments and testimony already presented on most sides of the issue,” and that additional testimony “might only serve to ratchet up unnecessary angst and concern on all sides of this issue.”

Pope wrote that the lack of a phase-in was his main concern in voting against the ban proposed last year, citing businesses’ need for time to make adjustments.

“This is obviously very different today, since it has been a topic of considerable discussion,” Pope wrote, suggesting an appropriate length to be 3-6 months.

Committee to be formed

Pope called for the creation of a seven-member working group to hammer out the details of a ban. That, and the timeframe for hearing back from the group, were the major topics of discussion among trustees.

Pope proposed that the group be composed of three business owners, two Smoke-Free Oak Park advocates, a member of the village’s Board of Health and “the village president or his designate.”

Some trustees took issue with Pope being a voting member of the group, so the size of the group was reduced to six: three on each side of the issue.

The group will return recommendations on how the village board should craft its smoke-free ordinance, including how long a phase-in might last.

Representatives of Smoke-Free Oak Park also addressed the board Monday night, reiterating their support for passing a ban. Dr. David Ansell suggested the board think of passing the ordinance as a Band-Aid needing removal and ripping it off quickly.

Some trustees and those addressing the board made much out of the fact that Springfield passed a ban before the board could act.

“That’s Springfield, Illinois,” said Ron Burke, a resident of the 600 block of Wenonah Avenue. “It’s not known as the most progressive community in the state.”

“It’s amusing,” Trustee Geoff Baker said.

Philander’s Restaurant banned smoking in its piano bar section as of Feb. 1, adding itself to the list of restaurants preferring self-regulation rather than waiting for the inevitable smoke-free ordinance from the village.

“I’m sure we’re going to lose some customers, but I’m also sure we’re going to gain customers,” said Mark Molitor, the manager of Philander’s, 1120 Pleasant St., at the base of the Carleton Hotel.

It was too early last week for Molitor to tell how the ban will affect Philander’s bar business, centered around piano and small-combo jazz.

“It’s only been a day. We’ll know better by the end of March.”

Carleton/Philander’s owner Mike Fox said half of the restaurant/bar’s sales are in liquor, but he has no way to tell which sales are made at the bar or at tables. He estimated that 30-40 percent of sales are at the bar. The question is, what portion of bar customers are also smokers.

The ban “was something we didn’t take lightly,” Fox said.

Poor Phil’s, next door, went smoke-free last spring.

Fox said he would like to see a state-wide smoking ban so smoking patrons can’t leave places like Oak Park for nearby communities without a ban.

At a village board meeting Monday, Papaspiros owner Spiro Papageorge said the first-floor dining area of his restaurant will be smoke-free as of March 1.

“I am a non-smoker myself, and I know the community has very strong feelings about this issue,” Papageorge said. “More than 90 percent of businesses in Oak Park are smoke-free. I am in favor of that.”

Other smoke-free restaurants include: Winberie’s, 151 N. Oak Park Ave.; Cafe Le Coq, 734 Lake St.; Marion Street Grille, 189 N. Marion St.; Rock L’s, 1115 Lake St.; and Cucina Paradiso, 814 North Blvd.

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