Alcohol sales drop after smoking ban

Corpus Christi’s bars aren’t selling as much booze as last year, but it’s unclear whether a recent smoking ban, the recession or other factors are the primary cause.

Alcohol sales at Corpus Christi’s bars and restaurants were, on average, down by about $3,000 per establishment this August compared with last August. The drop equates to about an 8 percent drop in alcohol sales overall.

When only considering alcohol sales at bars and pool halls, the average drop in sales is about $4,800 per bar for August.

Those numbers come from the alcohol tax receipts reported to the state comptroller’s office. Statewide, tax receipts indicated a 1 percent dip in alcohol sales when comparing this August with last.

Although some bar owners say the smoking ban is to blame, spending in the city is down overall.

Sales on taxable goods, which include most items except groceries, were down 13.4 percent from the same period last year, said Constance Sanchez, the city’s interim finance director.

Statewide, sales tax revenue dropped about 12 percent so far this year compared with the same period the previous year, said R.J. DeSilva, a spokesman for the state comptroller’s office.

Alcohol tax revenue has stayed relatively flat, he said.

DeSilva said the comparison of August 2008 receipts to August 2009 receipts could accurately show a decline in sales, although comparing a full year could show more accurate long-term trends.

The city hasn’t gone a full year without smoking in bars.

The City Council in December extended the ban on smoking in public places to include bars, pool halls and bingo parlors, and it took effect in June. It expanded a ban approved in January 2005, which extended a long-standing ban on smoking in workplaces to include restaurants.

Businesses that accommodate smokers with an ashtray or customers who light up indoors could face a $2,000 fine under the ordinance. City officials said no citations have been issued since the ban took effect.

The declines have hurt some businesses to the point that employees say they may have to close.

Theo’s Billiard Saloon, 5815 Weber Road, saw a 37 percent drop in its August alcohol sales compared with the previous year, according to the tax receipts.

Pool hall staff member Josh Kurz said the dramatic drop came after the smoking ban went into effect. The pool hall has no way to build an outdoor smoking area because it’s in a strip center. If sales don’t improve, the pool hall will close in February when its lease is up, he said.

“I hear customers complaining,” he said. “I’d imagine (the sales drops) are because of the smoking ban.”

Pool halls like Theo’s saw the most dramatic declines in alcohol sales.

Alcohol sales dropped 49 percent at Hot Shots Pools and Billiards, 4951 Ayers St., 20 percent at Paradise Pool and Billiards, 5141 Oakhurst Drive, 14 percent at Click’s Billiards, 4535 S. Padre Island Drive, and 11 percent at Rascal’s, 5959 Williams Drive.

And although most bars across the city have seen their alcohol sales drop, some are bringing in more money than the previous year.

Molly McArdle’s, 4201 McArdle Road, saw its alcohol sales increase 71 percent and Outta Bounds Sports Lounge, 1402 Rodd Field Road, saw its sales go up 40 percent.

The mixed reaction makes it difficult to say what effect the smoking ban has on businesses.

Cities that have passed smoking bans have conducted studies that found prohibiting smoking in bars doesn’t impact alcohol sales. Owners of bars and pool halls have produced their own studies, claiming the bans hurt their business.

Across the state, recent alcohol sales trends are varied.

In Abilene, where a smoking ban has been in effect for more than three years, alcohol sales dropped by 13 percent from August 2008 to August 2009.

In San Antonio, which doesn’t ban smoking in bars, alcohol sales dropped 2 percent.

Other cities that ban smoking in bars saw alcohol sales go up in the past year: Plano’s sales increased by 12 percent, Austin’s increased by 2 percent and El Paso’s increased by 1 percent.

source: CORPUS CHRISTI

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