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How to Support Local Businesses in Springfield

Note June 4, 2012: The post below was sparked by the April 5, 2011 vote which passed and brought a city-wide smoking ban into effect in Springfield, Missouri. We will be voting again tomorrow to decide whether or not the original ban was too strict, so I thought I’d share this post again with an added paragraph at the bottom. Be sure to read the comments!

Tomorrow, Springfield voters will decide whether or not to allow smoking in all indoor public places. I will be voting against the smoking ban, and you should too. Here’s why.

Despite our persistence in believing that restaurants, bars, and our work places are “public,” they are actually private property that the owners open up to the public. Business owners must follow laws to ensure that food they sell is safe, it’s true, but that is where government interference in their business decisions should stop.

Voters should not decide for thousands of business owners whether or not patrons should be allowed to smoke in those private businesses. Let’s look at Mudlounge and Patton Alley Pub.

The owner of Mudlounge decided that their establishment would be smoke free. The owner of Patton Alley decided that their establishment would allow smoking. You, the patron, get to decide which place you’d rather go to for a drink. End of the story: both joints appear to be thriving, despite the different customer segments their smoking rules caters to.

If we pass this ballot measure, voters are making that business decision for every single small business owner in Springfield. The government should make laws to protect its citizens from unsanitary food preparation and handling because it is unreasonable to expect all restaurant owners to understand the intricacies of how diseases spread, how foods spoil, and how to avoid spoilage for all the ingredients they use in food preparation. But the choice to allow smoking or not should be up to the entrepreneur. If your favorite restaurant allows smoking and you don’t like it, you should stop going there and you must tell them why you will be taking your business elsewhere.

Just for the record, I am a non-smoker, and I’ve never been a smoker. I don’t like going out to eat and needing to shower and wash my clothes because we went to a restaurant that allows smoking any more than you do. But I don’t think it’s right nor is it capitalistically healthy for voters to make decisions for small businesses (or even for big businesses) that they can and should be making themselves based on how that relatively basic, binary decision will hurt or stimulate their bottom line. The government should keep its fingers out of this issue, and you should be involved in this issue by voting with your dollars and not in the voting booth.

A yes vote tomorrow says that you know better what business owners need to do to ensure the success of their business. For many voters, it also means a healthier Springfield. But people will continue to choose to smoke; despite all that we know about the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke, people still choose to do it. So instead of making a business decision in the ballot box tomorrow, make a decision on where you take your business. Don’t take that decision away from shop owners.

A no vote tomorrow says that you support local business and the sovereignty of the business owner in the sphere of their own business matters, and it means accepting personal responsibility for the effects of your patronage to certain food and drink establishments, not to mention other retail stores.

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Update: From KY3’s website: The smoking ban passed, “11,201 to 9,795. The ordinance will go into effect 60 days after the election results are certified.”

Edit June 4, 2012: First, go read 417 Magazine’s brief summary of what tomorrow’s vote entails. My views on this issue have not changed since I wrote this post. The one thing I would like to add is that I think servers lose big in restaurants where smoking is allowed. They cannot simply go find a job at a non-smoking restaurant or bar; it isn’t that easy, now more than ever. Would hazard pay mitigate their exposure to second-hand smoke? What are some other ways to compensate or protect servers if their restaurant owner decides to allow smoking? Let me know in the comments!

Image source: thanks to Whiskeygonebad on Flickr for licensing the image used above under a Creative Commons attribution-noncommercial-share alike license.