Business owners often grumble after the imposition of smoking bans, such as when the state forbade lighting up in restaurants and most other workplaces in 2012.
But one local bar is making a business decision to snuff out the smoke, because more of its customers are bothered by it than not.
Flat Rock Tap in Hammond decided to go smoke-free on Jan. 1. The owners believe the bar is one of the first in the city – if not the first – to voluntarily clear the air.
"I think it's going to benefit us with all the non-smokers who don't want to smell like smoke," said co-owner Matt Przewoznik.
Flat Rock first opened in September 2006 where the Shamrock Tap used to be, at 6732 Calumet Avenue. The 180-seat bar offers a wide selection of beers, including many imports and craft brews, as well as pub food, such as burgers, wings and its signature one-pound BLTs. Przewoznik and co-owner Mike Repay redesigned the old Irish pub into a place where they would want to hang out, and named it after an old high school meeting place: a flat rock on Lake Michigan.
"We took over a late 1930s bar, a typically old school bar and kind of left it in that style," Repay said. "Our mix of clientele is as eclectic as our beer selection. It's not uncommon to see people in their middle 70s down to 21-years-old sitting around the bar, watching the same four TVs, and listening to the same jukebox."
Flat Rock Tap opened as a bar that welcomed smokers, but the smoke started to get to Repay, to the point where he would eat and arrange business meetings and other restaurants, because he did not want to leave smelling like smoke.
He and Przewoznik had invested a lot of money in filtration systems and smoke eaters over the years, but with limited results.
So Repay posed the question to Flat Rock's customers on Facebook: would they still belly up to the bar as much if they had to step outside to smoke? An overwhelming majority said they would prefer that Flat Rock be smoke-free, or that they would at least tolerate it. About 70 percent said they would visit a smoke-free bar more frequently, or that it would not affect how often they went.
"It was just a hunch, but we got some data supporting it," he said.
The number of smokers has been dwindling in recent years. An estimated 32.8 percent of Indiana residents smoked in 1990s, but it has since fallen to only 24 percent of the population, according to the United Health Foundation.
Flat Rock potentially could attract more non-smokers as a smoke-free alternative, and also boost its food sales, Repay said.
"Eating is a sensory experience, " he said "You can't smell the chicken wings or the bacon on the BLT if it's too smoky, so you're not going to order."
So far, smoking customers have been understanding and taken their cigarettes outside without complaint.
"It's an addiction, and I have sympathy for them," he said. "I've been really impressed with the way they've reacted. They've just shrugged their shoulders and gone outside."