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BRIGHT LIGHT OF ELMWOOD DARKENS WITH PARTING SHOT AT GOVERNMENT

About 8:45 a.m. Monday, just moments before he officially closed Jimmy Mac's, owner Richard E. Naylon Jr. turned to his wife, Michele, and said, "I feel like I'm about to euthanize an old friend."

Fifteen minutes later, Naylon pulled the plug and began calling his 35 full-time employees, thus ending the 23-year run of Jimmy Mac's, a popular watering hole at Elmwood Avenue and Anderson Place.

During its lifetime, Jimmy Mac's became a symbol of Elmwood prosperity, stretching the reach of the trendy strip farther south, below West Delavan Avenue and West Ferry Street.

Jimmy Mac's catered to an eclectic clientele, everyone from happy-hour yuppies to police commissioners and old pols, with a smattering of middle-class folks drawn by the upscale bar and an inexpensive menu.

In its death, Jimmy Mac's became a symbol of something else -- a victim, in Naylon's mind, of oppressive state and county governments that choked the life out of Jimmy Mac's with their enforcement of the state's smoking ban.

"I never anticipated my Jimmy Mac's career ending quite like this," Naylon said Monday in front of the now-dormant bar. "There's a thousand ways to go broke in the bar business. I just never anticipated it would be at the hands of the government."

Jimmy Mac's, though, may not have taken its last breath.

Naylon said he has a letter of intent from Mark Supples, owner of Mother's Restaurant on Virginia Place, to lease the space from Naylon and his limited partnership that owns the building.

"We're working toward a deal, but as of yet, we don't have one," Supples said late Monday.

Naylon said he is negotiating to sell the business to Supples for $100,000. Before he went public with his battle over the smoking ban, Naylon said, he could have sold the business for $300,000 to $350,000.

"It's hard to demand a big number when you've been all over the newspaper and TV complaining about all the money we've lost," Naylon said.

The bar's history dates from at least the early 1970s, when the Shamrock Bar moved to that location and opened as a neighborhood tavern. In 1981, Naylon and Jim McLaughlin bought the Shamrock and changed the name to Jimmy Mac's. At the time, the Elmwood bar scene revolved around five bars -- Cole's, Mister Goodbar, No Name, Bullfeathers and Casey's -- all located between West Delavan and Forest.

The new bar helped the Elmwood strip become the place to see and be seen.

"Jimmy Mac's wasn't just another business on the street," said Robert Franke, executive director of Forever Elmwood, an organization that boosts business on the strip. "They played a leadership role among the other restaurants and retail shops, particularly around that end of Elmwood."

Some customers and business sources have questioned whether the smoking ban really knocked Jimmy Mac's out of business. They speculated that Naylon, who got married a few years ago and has two younger children, tired of the long hours and hands-on approach his business required.

Those sources said that even after the smoking ban was enacted, Jimmy Mac's still seemed to do a pretty brisk business.

"The place wasn't and isn't dying, but as in any business, there's a break-even point," Naylon replied, citing his gross revenue of about $90,000 per month.

When the business was going well, early in 2003, after surviving its post- 9/1 1 problems, Jimmy Mac's was grossing $100,000 to $115,000 per month, enough to pay its bills and turn a profit, Naylon said.

Since the smoking ban went into effect in July 2003, the bar-restaurant has grossed consistently in the low $80,000s, translating into losses of about $10,000 per month, Naylon said. "What I've grown tired of," he said, "is coming in here and working for no money. If I had been making a living, I probably would have run the place indefinitely."

Naylon became the most vocal local spokesman against the smoking ban, even letting customers smoke in the bar, once they signed a slip acknowledging that they were in violation.

Last spring, Jimmy Mac's was granted a six-month waiver from the smoking ban, but an appeals court later suspended that waiver. On Oct. 1, in a hollow victory for Naylon, a state appellate court agreed with him that Erie County health officials had exceeded state guidelines in their rigid procedures for granting waivers, but the court directed only that Naylon's waiver bid be reconsidered.

Naylon still refuses to pay a $2,000 fine to the county Health Department for allowing customers to smoke.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com and mgryta@buffnews.com

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