By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
RICHWOOD - Weekend customers at the popular Richwood Flea Market can still buy just about everything from tools to tombstones, visit a farmers market or enjoy a lunch of fried chicken and soft ice cream.
They can't smoke any longer in the massive 120,000-square-foot Boone County market that, coincidentally, once served as a tobacco warehouse.
Two weeks ago, citing the changing cultural and political landscape in tobacco-rich Kentucky, operators of the Richwood Flea Market banned smoking at the facility, which features more than 300 vendors and attracts as many as 10,000 people every weekend.
"We felt with the changing demographics of the area, health concerns and changing political climate in Frankfort, it was time to make the change," said Mike Stallings, who along with his brother Mark has owned and operated the market for 17 years.
"Neither Mark nor I smoke; and Northern Kentucky has changed so much over the years, there are a lot more nonsmokers than smokers in the area," Stallings said. "As far as we know, we were the last large indoor public gathering place (in Greater Cincinnati), other than gambling or drinking establishments, that did allow smoking."
Stallings said there have been few complaints. By and large, customers have accepted and even embraced the ban.
"We thought long and hard about if this would hurt business," he said. "But at least during the first two weekends (of the ban) we've heard much more positive than negative."
Vendor Randall Wollen, the operator of R&E Tool Sales, welcomes the change. He has banned smoking in his four-booth area since 1992.
"I don't smoke and I don't like smoking," he said. "I banned smoking in my place because the rest of the building would get so smoky it would be almost like a fog sometimes. People would come into my place just to get away from the smoke.
"Now, you can absolutely see the difference," he said. "The air is fresh. I've only had a few complaints. Most people welcome it, and even those who say they don't like it are still coming to shop."
As health concerns about smoking have risen, so have efforts to reduce smoking in Kentucky. Gov. Ernie Fletcher is considering the first increase in the state's cigarette tax in more than 30 years.
A leading statewide advocate of reducing smoking is applauding the flea market.
"Good for them," said Carol Roberts, executive director of Louisville-based Kentucky Action. "There's no doubt that secondhand smoke is dangerous, so banning smoking in businesses and certainly workplaces creates a much healthier environment."
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