Ten years ago this month, the law banning smoking in bars, restaurants and other enclosed public places took effect in Saskatchewan, over the strenuous opposition of bar owners. They worried about the impact on their businesses.
Before the smoking ban, the Red Zone sports bar in Saskatoon was a popular meeting place for smokers, as were bars across the province. But as of January 1, 2005 smokers had to step outside to light up.
"I think there was a drop-off for a while in the business, and it did take several years before it did come back," said Steve Johnston, general manager of the Travelodge Hotel, where the Red Zone is located.
Patrons adapted, and business in urban bars eventually recovered.
"Coming up on 10 years that changed, like wow, has it been that long already? But you don't even think about it anymore," Johnston said.
Rural hotels hit harder
It's a different story in rural Saskatchewan.
Tom Mullin, the recently-retired president and chief executive officer of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association, said rural hotels saw a 25-30 per cent drop in alcohol served at their tables. He said one in five rural bars closed. And those remaining had to make up for the loss through higher off-sales.
"Consumers now or the patrons to the bar are taking their purchases and taking them to their homes for personal consumption," Mullin said.
His association accepts that the ban is here to stay.
Now, attention is shifting to how to maximize profits from those off-sales.
Exactly one week before Christmas the SHHA asked the provincial government to simplify the pricing structure for alcohol, with one wholesale price for all retailers, both public and private.
The new president and CEO Jim Bence said he is now waiting for the government's response.