The Starlite Club on North Hill is a non-smoking establishment, make no mistake about it.
Ashtrays are gone from the tables. Instead, a free-standing ashtray stands outside the main door. And then there are Essy and Miles Parizek, the co-owners, who police the bar with an anti-cigarette vigilance.
"If anybody catches you (smoking), you're out," Essy warns every night as she begins karaoke. The bar is, in her words, "110 percent smoke free."
James C. Falcon/MDN - - After contemplating the issue for almost three years, co-owners Essy Parizek, left, and her husband, Miles, made the decision to make their bar, The StarLite Club, a smoke-free establishment. “Best thing we did,” he said. Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the policy’s enforcement.
James C. Falcon/MDN - - Outside The StarLite Club, on North Hill, sits a free-standing ashtray for patrons who choose to smoke.
It wasn't always like that. Up until a year ago Sunday marked the first anniversary of it being smoke-free singers would take to the stage and sing popular hits or forgotten tunes amidst a haze of blue smoke. While the singers are still there, the smoke has cleared.
For the past two to three years, the Parizeks have contemplated on whether or not to turn their bar into a non-smoking bar. Every time they had the discussion, they always came to the same conclusion: it would be a very big step.
"You can lose business in a hurry or gain a change in business," Essy said last Tuesday afternoon.
As the Parizeks saw firsthand, there was a change in business, but it was one for the better.
"I have seen an improvement," she said. It wasn't a drastic change, "but it didn't hurt the business."
"Best thing we did," Miles added.
In addition to the change benefiting the business, Essy said that she has seen a positive change in her health. A sufferer of allergies, she would need to use inhalers. Now, she doesn't use them as much.
She noted a certain disapproval with establishments who go out of their way to announce, as if proud, that they allow smoking in their premises.
"I am more proud to have put up a sign outside to say we are smoke-free then 'Yes, we are smoking,'" she said.
The StarLite Club is among the eight or so bars in Minot -- in all, there are about two dozen bars in the city -- to be smoke-free.
Legislation provides that the decision to go smoke-free is up to the bar owner. In August 2005, a statewide ban on smoking -- with a few exceptions involved "in public places and places of enjoyment," was passed in North Dakota, per the North Dakota Century Code Sect. 23-12-10. Among those exceptions were bars.
Renae Byre, a tobacco treatment specialist with the First District Health Unit, said that there are many that comment to her about how frustrated they are that their workplace is not smoke-free.
"A lot of people say 'Well, find a different job,'" Byre said. "A lot of times, you can make a lot more money -- and they enjoy that kind of work -- in a bar."
Some mention that such legislation is "an infringement of the employers right," Byre said.
"I think we need to shift our thinking, in terms of that. It's a matter of safety. It's a matter of a safety and health issue," she added. "It's not about taking away rights. People can still smoke, they just have to take it outside."
At the StarLite, Essy Parizek said that "80 percent of people are very used to" the ban on smoking indoors. There are some that forget and light up inside. A very few will argue their point.
She added that loyal customers have looked past the smoking ban and when the need arises, they go outside to smoke. Essy noted that a smoke shack is in the planning stages.
"I feel for both sides," she said. A former smoker, she hasn't smoked in 30 years and doesn't plan on beginning the habit again. A smoke shack would accommodate those who "persist on smoking."
Five minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke is the same as smoking a cigarette, a fact sheet from (TobaccoScam.com) states. This stiffens the aorta, the main artery carrying blood from the heart to the body, which makes the heart work harder to pump blood.
Two hours of exposure can create a greater risk of irregular heartbeat which, in turn, can itself be fatal or trigger a heart attack.
"We were a strong leader in the nation when we went smoke-free with our restaurants," Byre said. "We were one of the top cities in the nation to protect employees and children from the harmful effects of secondhand smoking."
But since then, she noted, "we're not doing a good job of protecting all of our employees. Minot has not continued in that arena of putting health first. Hopefully, we'll kind of transition into that area."
According to Byre, Fargo has been smoke-free for a couple of years, and Grand Forks has been for a little over a year. Devils Lake jumped on the bandwagon in July 2010, as did Bismarck, which went smoke-free in September of 2010.
"We're slowly moving to this western end," she said, noting that the western end of the state, such as Williston have other pressing issues -- housing and infrastructure, to name a few -- to contend with.
"Bismarck is probably the furthest west that we've gone," she said.
While the Starlite is in its early infancy of being non-smoking, The Blue Rider is, in a way, a young adult.
Since it opened in 1993, The Blue Rider, located in downtown Minot, has operated as a non-smoking bar. To his knowledge, owner Walter Piehl believes that his bar is the first non-smoking bar in the state.
"We opened at a time when two other establishments that served food were non-smoking, but they were restaurant bars," he explained.
Piehl said that he chose to open the bar as a non-smoking bar "mainly because we couldn't stand smoke." The bar, he added is "more of an interesting diversion and more of a public space" for those who want to go out and don't want to smell like smoke.
"It seemed like the kind of place where people could hang out and do that without having the smoke," he said. "And there was a demand for it. People were talking about how they wouldn't go out because they couldn't stand to be in it or the effects of it afterward."
Right away, there was a positive reaction to its non-smoking stance, he said.
Piehl said that for some, when they first entered the bar with cigarette in hand -- or sometimes in mouth -- "you'd tell them it's a non-smoking bar. Some were irritated and mad. They obviously would either leave or put their cigarette out."
Like the Starlite, The Blue Rider has a clientele who smoke, but "they smoke outside because they're used to smoking outside in other situations. It's not just a bias so much against them because it happens all over."
Piehl said that the first year in business was "a very good year. The first few years before everybody did non-smoking were good years."
The YMCA, at the time, was located across the street and a clientele from there began to develop.
"They would swim and stop at the Blue afterwards," Piehl said. "When they moved away, it might have been 10 percent of our business, but it was a percent we counted on. It was slow to make up the difference in business again. Other bars had begun to go non-smoking."
There were some that opened -- like The Blue Rider -- as a non-smoking bar. Others changed their policies and became non-smoking bars.
"It was pretty obvious you could do that and still have a good business," Piehl said.
Essy Parizek said that, at the Starlite, it took about one and a half years to "get this up to profiting" when she and her husband first purchased the bar six years ago. "It's just been climbing ever since."
And making it non-smoking has helped boost that.
"I would highly recommend just about any business doing the same thing. I don't see where it's going to hurt," she said. In fact, she added, if she ever had another night club or some such establishment, "I would not hesitate twice on (enforcing a) smoke-free (policy) again ... I would kick it off smoke-free."
"Another club?" Miles asked, before nodding in agreement. "Oh yeah."
Likewise, Piehl said that he would never turn The Blue Rider into a smoking bar.
"Never," he said. "We'd turn it into a domino parlor before we'd do that."