Snuffed out

The West State Cafe is the kind of little restaurant that’s easily overlooked — it’s not cool, it’s not fancy, it’s not youth-oriented and it’s not spending lots of money on advertising.

So when Fort Wayne’s smoking ban forced it out of business, it was easy to not notice.

Thankfully, Kevin Leininger did notice. And he tells us the plight of David Hecke in his column in today’s News-Sentinel.

Hecke lost a half million dollars on his investment and can legitimately blame the smoking ban:

“My business dropped 60 percent (after smoking in restaurants was outlawed). People who smoke are more social and want to be out with friends,” said Hecke, who bought the 50-year-old building at 1329 W. State Blvd. in 2003 and closed it Nov. 5 — the day before City Councilman John Crawford, the law’s chief supporter, was defeated in his bid for re-election. “I went home and cried. For four years I never missed a day, opening at 4:30 a.m. and closing at 9 p.m. I was where I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do.”

We have to be honest: This is not an unintended consequence of the smoking ban. The closing of the West State Cafe is an intended consequence.

There was no chance that every smoker in the city would continue to go to restaurants if each one has to stand in the cold to have a cigarette. And there was also no chance that every restaurant in the city could afford to build roofed patios for their customers who smoke.

Now, what does all of this have to do with The Good City? Plenty, because a central tenet is neighborliness and courtesy. Smoking is a health problem, sure, but the rush to push all of the city’s smokers to the curb was downright rude.

The city didn’t seek some sort of long-term solution for this long-term problem. Instead, it instituted a sudden morality crusade that left a lot of hard feelings in its wake. That’s too bad, because it irritated a citizenry that now is all too ready to oppose other “progressive” projects like Harrison Square. I’m afraid the splintering effects of the smoking ban on our community will continue for years.

UPDATE: Rachel Blakeman offers a counterpoint and graciously links over to me.

Photo by armisteadbooker on Flickr