Gulfport smoking ban has restaurant owner steaming

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Eight months ago, Ricky Dombrowski supported Gulfport's smoking ban. But after watching almost 30% of his profits go up in smoke, he's had a change of heart. Dombrowski is now pushing for a modification to the smoking ban, before it snuffs out his restaurant.

Revenues have dropped so much at Skeeters, some of Dombrowski's customers are starting to light up again, with his blessing.

Dombrowski has received two calls from Gulfport police, warning him that smoking inside Skeeters is illegal. But if he obeys the law, he says his Gulfport business could close.

You smell food and not cigarettes when you stop by Skeeters for lunch. But at night, the pool hall and the bar area do get rather smokey. When the Skeeters owner was asked if he was letting people smoke in the evening hours, Dombrowski said, "Yes I am."

Dombrowski realizes that admission violates Gulfport's six month old smoking ban, a ban that prohibits people from lighting up inside public buildings like Skeeters.

"You know the ordinance came out and it affected me tremendously," he conceded.

In the first three months after smoking was banned, his restaurant revenues dropped more than 30%. So, in August, he started to look the other way when people wanted to smoke. By October, he put out ashtrays.

However, because Dombrowski is now a lone voice opposing the smoking ban, Gulfport's mayor says amending the ordinance seems unlikely.

"To be honest with you, we get probably more compliments and congratuations and thank yous than we do questions or criticisms," Mayor Brent Warr said.

Enforcing the smoking ordinance is up to the Gulfport Police Department.

"Every complaint that we've received we've looked into," deputy chief Alfred Sexton said.

Dombrowski is one of the merchants who has been warned by police that allowing teens in the restaurant while customers smoke violates the city's smoking ordinance. However, he claims he has no choice, because he says the smoking ordinance is choking his business. He'd like to see Gulfport amend its smoking ordinance, so at night, when kids are at home and most of Skeeters money is made at the pool tables and the bar, smokers can light up again.

"When you're dealing with a facility such as this that has pool tables and a bar, the cigarettes kind of go along with it," he said.

He'd also like the ordinance to allow 18-year-olds into smoking areas, because if they're old enough to buy cigarettes, they should be old enough to visit his pool hall, and smoke, at night.

Dombrowski would like Gulfport to allow businesses like his to be smoke free for lunch, so parents can still bring their kids to his restaurant. But so far, the city has not addressed his request.

It should be noted that according to deputy chief Alfred Sexton, Gulfport has not written any citations to people or businesses who violate the smoking ban.