HICKS COLUMN: Cigar bar running out of time
Some of these Charleston City Council folks have been sitting on the fence for so long they must have splinters.
They have hemmed and hawed so much now that Club Habana, the city's only cigar bar, may be out of business within weeks. So way to go, gang -- you may have just cost Charleston a few jobs.
The problem here is that Club Habana has lost its lease and needs council approval to move to a new location, as per the 2007 smoking ban. If the council doesn't amend the ordinance to allow them to move, their exemption to the ban expires. And what good is a cigar bar if you can't light up?
It may already be too late, thanks to the procrastination. The club has been on a month-to-month lease since January, and the landlord has said the building will be smoke-free by March 31. Now, there is no time for council to pass any remedy on three readings before April.
To be sure, there is no time to move the bar and reopen without going weeks -- if not months -- without business.
The sad thing is, all of this could have been avoided if not for government inaction.
Council members have had a couple of excuses for not moving quicker -- and they are fair points, to a point.
Some of them understandably dread the political repercussions of tinkering with the city's smoking ordinance. Others don't like the idea of Charleston granting one business what basically amounts to a monopoly.
Councilman Aubry Alexander tried to alleviate that concern. Last month, he proposed an amendment that would allow anyone to open a cigar bar under the same strict guidelines that Club Habana follows. It was a reasonable compromise, but unfortunately it paralyzed council even more.
Now, council has a new amendment to consider on Monday. It allows Club Habana to move, but not expand its size by more than 10 percent. Councilman Dean Riegel said his colleagues should move fast on this one.
"Let's keep it simple and look back at the intent of council in 2007," Riegel says. "We can revisit the monopoly issue in another venue."
First things first
Tom Pompeii, owner of Club Habana, is in a bind -- and it's not his fault.
He went to the city as soon as he found out his lease would not be renewed, and the wheels of government have turned so slowly he's looking at a shutdown on April 1 if something doesn't happen.
He has no problem with amending the smoking ban to allow other cigar bars, but understandably doesn't want to get pulled into a protracted political fight. Not when he's trying to keep his doors open.
"I'd like for it to come back to a simple decision and not be complicated by side issues," Pompeii says. "We're just trying to stay in business."
Alexander's idea has a lot of merit, and council should consider it. But first things first. As Riegel notes, there hasn't been anyone complaining about Club Habana's "monopoly" for five years.
So save Club Habana, and after that council can blow all the smoke it wants.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.