CASPER, Wyo. — Sandbar Lounge, a downtown Casper institution, will close for good Saturday, and its owner says the city's recently imposed smoking ban is to blame.
“The smoking ban destroyed the bar, as I foretold it would,” Nancy Goddard wrote Monday in a post on the Sandbar's Facebook page. “I have cried a million tears and will probably cry a million more again. I apologize. I tried and failed. God bless.”
Casper residents voted Nov. 3 to reinstate a 2012 smoking ban on bars. More than 6,000 voters cast ballots, with 54 percent voting in favor of the ban.
Ban supporters, such as the American Cancer Society, said public health would benefit from cigarettes being outlawed at city bars. Opponents argued the issue was a matter of small business rights and said Casper bars would lose business to establishment outside the city, where smoking is allowed.
Rich Roberts sat at a table with five friends, discussing Sandbar’s fate over burgers and fries. The friends have been meeting for lunch every Monday at the Sandbar for years. Only one of them is a smoker, but they all were sad the bar was closing.
“People didn’t realize what was going to happen (as a result of the smoking ban),” said Roberts.
Bill Reed, who’d stopped in for lunch and has been a patron at the Sandbar for decades said he was angry about how the debate was framed.
“It’s more of a freedoms issue,” he said. “It has to do with your individual rights as the owner of an establishment.”
Casper Mayor Charlie Powell said he was sorry to hear that Sandbar would close but noted the decision was ultimately made by the voters.
“I think the goal of the City Council was to put the debate before the electorate, and I have to assume that people who cast their votes for the ban knew that there would be hardship for some of the businesses that happen to rely on a smoking clientele," he said.
Saturday will be the last day of business at Sandbar, according to the Facebook post. Goddard was not at the bar when a reporter visited Monday, and she did not respond to a message left with a bartender.
“It’s just sad. Because of [the ban], there’s a granddaughter, daughter, sister that are gonna lose out,” Reed said, referring to family members who would have inherited the bar when Goddard retired.
Other Casper bars say business has declined since the ban went into effect.
It’s only been a few weeks, but Kristi Rainbolt said she had already seen a significant drop in income at TJ’s Bar and Grill. Rainbolt manages at TJ’s, one of the five bars that allowed smoking before the ordinance changed. It’s just like the drop in business in 2012, she said.
Rainbolt just hopes that she can survive the downturn. Small bars can’t afford to lose a portion of their clientele, she said.
“I feel bad for (Goddard); it’s hard on her to close,” Rainbolt said. “I really hope we (at TJ’s) don’t have that happen.”
Matt Galloway voluntarily went nonsmoking in his bar and bowling alley before the ban. His income took a dive in the short term, but revenue came back up eventually, he said.
While that may be true for many bars, some businesses aren’t able to weather the storm, Rainbolt said.
“Some of us can’t make it through that dip. We have to have (business) continually coming in to keep the lights on and the doors open,” she said.