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Jake Keane, right, pours ginger ale for Ryan Morton, left, at The Mint Bar Friday on Main Street. The local bar has recently instituted a smoking ban and has received enthusiastic support from its customers.Jake Keane, right, pours ginger ale for Ryan Morton, left, at The Mint Bar Friday on Main Street. The local bar has recently instituted a smoking ban and has received enthusiastic support from its customers.

Clearing the air at The Mint Bar

SHERIDAN — Sometimes the most daunting decisions can lead to the biggest rewards.

Brothers Monte and Wes Buckmaster have certainly found that to be true.

After several years of contemplating a smoking ban in The Mint Bar — a Sheridan institution that the brothers have co-owned for more than two decades — Monte Buckmaster recently decided to finally make it official.

After gauging potential reactions through social media, he instated the policy at the beginning of May. In the time since then, he said business has been booming.

“Times are changing and we felt like we needed to change with them,” he said.

Mint fans first learned that Buckmaster was considering the change when he posted a Facebook update midway through April asking customers whether such a ban might make the bar a more attractive destination.

Several regulars — smokers and nonsmokers alike — replied to the status saying they’d be in favor of the decision.

Two days later on April 21, Buckmaster posted another update declaring the storied cowboy bar would officially become smoke-free on the first of the month.

The update garnered more than 100 “likes” and nearly 20 comments from happy customers — many of whom said they were excited to finally come back after having left to avoid the smoke.

Buckmaster said that while he was happy with the response, he still had his reservations.

Stories of bar closings in the aftermath of a 2009 statewide smoking ban in Montana had him worried that business might suffer.

“It was a hard decision to make because we don’t want to offend the people who have come here for years and years (and have been) allowed to smoke,” he said.

But in the nearly three weeks since the ban went into effect, Buckmaster said smokers have displayed a willingness to smoke outside if it means continuing to spend time at The Mint.

What’s more, a younger crowd has begun flowing through the doors nearly every night of the week.

“It hasn’t hurt us one bit,” Buckmaster said. “If anything business has increased.”

In that way, Buckmaster considers himself lucky to own a bar with such a diverse clientele.

A Sheridan mainstay for more than a century, The Mint’s high profile Main Street location and name recognition make it a popular meeting place for locals and tourists alike.

“This is everybody’s bar in Sheridan,” Buckmaster said. “It’s been here so long that it’s kind of an anchor.”

Longtime visitors such as Sheridan resident Heidi Clabaugh said that while she was initially shocked to hear of the ban, it’s inspired her to order a set of electronic cigarettes and finally work on kicking the habit.

Clabaugh said that while she has yet to visit The Mint since the ban went into effect, she was pleased to hear that business has improved.

“It’s the wave of the future,” she said of the ban.

For his part, Buckmaster said that type of acceptance has been essential in allowing the bar to not only survive the new ban, but also to win over new visitors and become an even more attractive destination for road-weary travelers off the interstate.

“The decision was made to make it more friendly for everybody because smoking isolates (certain people),” he said. “We want everybody — especially the tourists that come from out of town — to have a good Sheridan experience.”

And while the tourism season has yet to fully take off, Buckmaster said he’s optimistic that the new policy will ensure The Mint remains an essential component of Sheridan’s nightlife offerings for many years to come.

“It has the feel that people are going to come here more regularly,” he said.

About

Paolo Cisneros

Paolo Cisneros joined The Sheridan Press staff in August 2012. He covers business, energy and public safety. A Chicago native, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2011.

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