Deadlock threatens cigar bar
Charleston's only cigar bar faces an uncertain future after City Council failed to pass an ordinance Monday that would have allowed Club Habana to carry its indoor smoking privileges to a new location.
Immediately after the 6-6 vote that killed the proposal by deadlock, bar owner Tom Pompeii said finding success at a new location will be questionable.
Asking cigar smokers "to sit outside come rain or shine or whatever" is a business model doomed to fail, he said.
The vote means Club Habana on Meeting Street has about one month of operating time left.
"I got my eviction note today (Monday)," Pompeii said.
Club Habana had hoped to carry its "grandfathered" smoking exemption to another site after the bar was allowed to keep lighting up, even after the citywide ban on indoor smoking took effect in 2007. At the time, officials cited the unique business link between the bar and the Tinder Box tobacco shop that operated below it. Customers must pass through the cigar shop to get to the bar upstairs.
That all changed when the building's landlord told Pompeii that his lease would not be renewed into 2012.
The proposal that died Monday would have allowed the bar to move one time only and to a stand-alone building, carrying its smoking privileges with it. But the idea drew deep opposition as groups opposed to expanding the smoking footprint in the city came out in force, including various anti-cancer and clean-air organizations, and most recently the March of Dimes.
Tobacco researcher Dr. Matthew Carpenter of the Medical University of South Carolina told the council Monday that the business could still operate if it moves to another location, just not with indoor smoking privileges.
"No one is forcing them out of business," he said. "They have complete freedom to find another location with an outside smoking venue."
Mayor Joe Riley was among those supporting the ordinance allowing the business to move, as was Councilman Mike Seekings.
"The debate got to be something more than what they asked for," Seekings said, as a request to move a business soon became a rehashing of the citywide smoking ban.
Council member Kathleen Wilson was among the six who voted to disallow the move. She opposed the idea by saying the original intent of the ordinance that allowed the cigar bar was on the understanding that it would be a one-location, one-site arrangement.
"You could have inserted the word 'bakery,' and I would have voted the same way," she said.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.