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Snuffed out

Co-owner of the Lowrey Hotel and Cafe Stacy Wright takes a smoking break on Friday. In a few days, she'll have to take her breaks outside as Wisconsin's workplace smoking ban takes effect July 5.

The Lowrey Hotel and Cafe is one of the last bastions of smoker-friendly eating establishments in New Richmond.

Step inside the downtown restaurant and you're transported back in time. Dark paneled walls, an old fashioned malt machine and a vintage lunch counter are part of the Lowrey's atmosphere.

But perhaps the most noticeable throw-back quality of the place is the smell of cigarette smoke. It's not uncommon to see clouds of smoke rising from the cafe booths that line the wall.

That's all about to change.

Wisconsin newly adopted workplace smoking ban takes affect on Monday, July 5. On that day, smoking sections within bars and restaurants will become a thing of the past. Patrons will no longer be allowed to light up inside. They will have to go outside to get their nicotine fix.

"I think we're the last smoking restaurant in town," said co-owner Stacy Wright. "But this is the way it's been for 100 years. We are the last to go."

Lowrey co-owner Gerald Hoglund said about a third of customers who frequent the cafe are smokers. Most of the other patrons are former smokers.

"A lot of people just like to have a cigarette with their meal," he explained.

A few patrons who smoke have expressed their displeasure with the new statewide ban. Only one has said she won't frequent the cafe any more because of the law change.

"We accommodated her by telling her that we would deliver her meals," Wright said.

Otherwise, the Lowrey owners are optimistic about the impending change.

"I don't like the idea that the state is dictating what we do," Hoglund said. "But we'll make do however we can. We will just have to go outside a lot to smoke."

Wright even suggested that the ban could mean more business for the Lowrey.

"A lot of people like our food but they don't like the smoking," she said. "If anything, this ban might help us."

Hoglund agreed.

"Some people have said they can't wait for the ban," he said. "They don't like the smoking and can start coming back in here."

Even though she's a smoker herself, Wright said it's time for businesses to show their concern about second-hand smoke.

"My smoking shouldn't have an impact on someone else," she explained.


Local pubs and bars have been scrambling to accommodate their smoking patrons.

Some establishments have added outdoor patios and fenced areas to allow smokers to drink and smoke outside.

Others have designed smoking areas, but won't be extending their liquor licenses to allow for outdoor drinking.

McCabe's Shamrock Club has added a canopy area behind its building to allow smokers to light up. There will be no drinking allowed in that area.

"We're going to abide by the law," said manager Bill Driscoll. "It might be a hardship on us for a while, but I don't think it's going to be a big financial dilemma."

Driscoll estimated that 20 to 25 percent of the bar's customers are smokers. The other patrons, he added, expect to encounter cigarette smoke and don't complain about it.

But there's no panic at the Shamrock, Driscoll said, because other statewide smoking bans have been implemented successfully over the years.

In fact, pubs in Ireland went smokeless just over a year ago and smoking is much more prevalent in that country than in the U.S.

"And they're all surviving," he said. "We'll just have to live with it."