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Club Habana: War on smoke or business?

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Club Habana is gone. Facing eviction, the owners moved out without a sound this week. By Thursday there was nothing left but a few couches.

There are now no more full-service cigar bars in Charleston, so the assimilation is complete. There is no exception to the smoking ban, unless you smoke in actual smoke shops. And with this mind-set, you have to wonder how long that will last.

City Council had the chance to save Club Habana and its 17 or so jobs, but opted not to let the bar move its grandfathered status to a new location. To survive, Club Habana had to move. But City Council said no.

Some council members felt like they were being jerked around, that Club owners waited till the last minute to ask for help (they didn't; it just took forever to get on the agenda). Some noted the Club was behind on paying its business licenses. But city staff says lots of businesses are behind, and those paltry fees are no reason to force people into the unemployment line.

But the city said no.

Some council members are reportedly having second thoughts.

Maybe they acted too harshly. Perhaps they should have cut Club Habana some slack. It could have kept a few people working, and we need that.

“I really believe the council and the city could have, or should have, been able to find a solution satisfactory to all parties,” says Councilman Dean Riegel, a Club supporter.

Yeah, the city could have let them move.

It's hard to blame council members too much — they were under a lot of pressure. The anti-smoking forces, armed with plenty of data showing the harmful effect of smoking, were ready to see this place off. And they certainly didn't want the city removing the monopoly clause Club Habana had. That might have led to more places where you could smoke. Even though the market wouldn't support more than a couple.

A lot of people don't smoke anymore. But why should it matter to anyone else if folks want to go to a dedicated place for smoking, where you know what you're getting? It shouldn't.

Forget the health concerns, which are real. This was pure old nanny state malarkey.

Some folks on council wish they could have a mulligan, maybe lobby a little harder, because there is a disturbing trend forming here.

“I don't like how the city is treating small business,” Riegel says. “We seem like we're being more and more intolerant, and these are the people who are going to turn the economy around.”

He's right. And it would be nice if the city could do something, but it may be too late. Club Habana has already suffered; it's been closed for a month.

The loss of one bar is not going to make or break the city's economy, but it sure has hit a few people right in the wallet.

And that's not what the city is supposed to do.

Reach Brian Hicks at or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.

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