In the past year, huddled masses of smokers outside Livingston County bars and restaurants became the norm. The bar and restaurant patrons didn’t develop a new affinity for the outdoors, but rather were adapting to the state’s controversial Marengo smoking ban that took effect one year ago this month.

Representatives of county bars and restaurants interviewed for this story said business overall was flat in the past year — no worse, no better — but that it’s difficult to pin sales on just one factor.

Cleary’s Pub in Howell, both a bar and restaurant, had to contend with the smoking ban, an extensive parking project and the sluggish economy that has hit all businesses in the past year.

Cleary’s previously offered smoking and nonsmoking rooms, making it even more difficult to know just what the smoking ban has meant to its bottom line.

The restaurant and bar has seen an increase in food sales and steady liquor sales in the past year, but a drop in Club Keno sales, said owner Kevin Cleary.

Club Keno is played mainly in bars, and the Michigan lottery game has taken a hit statewide since the ban took effect.

“Who do we blame? On the economy?” Cleary asked.

“Who knows. It’s just everything,” he added.

Cleary, a nonsmoker, said he supports the ban.

The ban applies to all bars, restaurants and workplaces. Exceptions are granted in the law for casino gaming floors, cigar bars, tobacco specialty stores, home offices and motorized vehicles.

Smoking is banned on outdoor areas connected to businesses if patrons are served or business is transacted there.

Some bar owners claim they’ve lost liquor sales by patrons going outside to smoke — a process that takes them away from the bar for however long it takes to finish a cigarette.

Bowling alleys, traditionally an American haven for smokers, took a particularly rough blow with the smoking ban, including losing many bowlers, said Jerry Hudson, Howell Bowl-E-Drome general manager.

It has also been a challenge keeping Sandbaggers Restaurant, the alley’s restaurant and lounge, running strong, Hudson said, considering many bowlers enjoyed having a smoke and a drink there.