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That stinks! Featured

9:33am EDT July 22, 2002

Many people equate bowling alleys with smoke-filled rooms. George Hadler, president of the Columbus Square Bowling Palace, wanted things to be different at his 64,000-square-foot, 64-lane facility.

Built in 1983, the center, which includes a lounge, restaurant, two meeting rooms and management offices, features five large exhaust fans that run 24 hours a day in the main concourse. The fans are built into a hole in the roof and suck the smoky air from the area, while a carbon filter inhales the odor.

The cost of putting in the fans? Close to $30,000. But Hadler says the expense is worth it.

"You may not like paying for it, but you can't afford to lose half your business," he says, noting that accommodating nonsmokers -- which comprise 50 percent of his customers -- became a top priority for him in 1994 when the Franklin County Board of Health banned smoking in virtually all buildings open to the public. The ban lasted only a month before a county judge ruled it invalid.

Since then, however, Hadler has become a true believer in cleaning up indoor air.

"We get positive comments from nonsmokers and smokers about how much they appreciate the quality of air in here," he says. "I think everybody in the hospitality industry should do this. It's just good business."

Hadler is such an advocate of cleaner air, in fact, that he spent another $15,000 on air filtration systems for the meeting rooms and offices in his establishment. The small units, which resemble mini air conditioners, are attached to trusses in the ceiling. Hadler says installing the systems didn't interrupt business and he considers them just another cost of doing business --like payroll or heating bills.

"A good experience here says more than anything else," he says. "People tell other people when they've had a good time."

Peggy Lett, co-owner of Basso Bean Coffee House in the Short North area, says smoke wasn't the only problem at her business -- although it was a major issue. Excessive heat in the kitchen area and strong food odors were concerns as well.

"Some people used to walk in and then walk out," she says.

That just wasn't acceptable. She and co-owners Steve Swartz and Chris DiPaolo first upgraded the cooling system with air filters that sucked out the stagnant air. Then they installed an exhaust grill at the back of the shop to pull used air out of the building, and a heat removal hood over the cooking island.

"The hood eliminated odors and lowered the temperature in the kitchen by about 40 degrees," Lett says.

"You never see a smoke film in here whatsoever," she says of her business, which happens to be the only Short North coffee house that permits smoking. "There's no smoke hanging in the air."

What did it cost?

"In the thousands," says Lett, who says it's difficult to pinpoint since extensive remodeling was done at the same time. Still, she insists it was worth it.

"We now keep everyone happy -- the smokers and the nonsmokers, although even smokers did not like the atmosphere before."

Hadler and Lett are not alone in their quest to make their establishments more comfortable -- and healthy -- for customers. The Ohio Coalition for Indoor Air Quality was formed last summer to address not only the issue of cigarette smoke, but nuisances such as mold and mildew.

The coalition offers low-cost assessments of indoor air quality at hospitality sites and discounted pricing on heating, ventilation and air conditioning services and equipment.

You have to "do what you can," Hadler says of improving air quality. "It doesn't cost that much money and it's not that difficult." How to reach: George Hadler, president, Columbus Square Bowling Palace, 457-6650; Peggy Lett, co-owner, Basso Bean Coffee House, 221-2326; Ohio Coalition for Indoor Air Quality, (800) 795-5867

Lori Murray (Lori3204@aol.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.