The first floor of this building at 47 High St. will be a cigar bar. The owners plan to open in May. | Harold Hanka/The Westerly Sun
January 24, 2016 04:02AM
By DALE P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — The clash between the concept of a good cigar and those who think cigars are nothing but foul-smelling tobacco products rife with health hazards is playing out before the Licensing Board.
The board will resume a hearing Monday at 1 p.m. at Town Hall on Vintage LLC’s application for a Class C bar license to open Vintage Cigar Lounge & Club at 47 High St. in the space most recently occupied by Stillman’s Uniforms. The board opened the hearing on Jan. 14 but decided to continue the hearing to Monday because Solicitor Matthew Oliverio did not attend the meeting.
Tenants who rent office space above the proposed cigar bar have filed formal objections to it based on concerns that cigar smoke or the odor of it will waft up into their offices. In letters to the board, the tenants also object to a business that focuses on tobacco use.
“We all know that secondhand smoke is dangerous. No amount of filters and ventilation will prevent secondhand smoke from seeping into the walls and ceilings of this building,” Judith Chick, one of the tenants, wrote in a letter to the board.
Chick, a licensed clinical social worker, conducts mental health counseling from her office on the second floor of 47 High St. In her letter she noted that the number of smokers in the country has been reduced through pubic health initiatives that ban smoking in many public places. “There is no responsible use of tobacco products. Cigars, cigarettes and other tobacco products are harmful,” Chick, who is a member of the Westerly Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force, wrote.
In an interview, Chick said she was also concerned about the risk of a fire, saying her section of the building does not have a sprinkler system. And she questioned the placement of a cigar bar in proximity to a nearby karate studio that offers classes to children.
The cigar bar would be equipped with a state-of-the-art air purification and cleansing system, said William Nardone, the lawyer who represents Vintage LLC. Ceiling tiles and light fixtures will be sealed to prevent the migration of smoke.
“They are taking all of the necessary steps and precautions and then some to prevent the migration of smoke,” Nardone said.
The equipment also will treat any smoke that exhausts out of the building. The filtration system is critical to the business, Nardone said, because cigar smokers do not want the smoke of other cigars to interfere with their own experience. Vintage LLC’s lease also includes smoke migration provisions, Nardone said.
Although smoking is illegal in most bars, state law allows for “smoking bars,” establishments whose business is primarily devoted to serving tobacco products for consumption on the premises. The annual revenues generated by tobacco sales must be greater than 50 percent of the establishment’s total revenues, and serving food or alcohol may only be incidental to consumption of tobacco products.
Vintage LLC is Greg D. Williams of Charlestown and Jesse L. Saglio of Hopkinton. Williams previously worked as a police officer both in Maryland and in Warwick and currently works for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections’ Probation and Parole office. Saglio is managing director of investments for the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, the state’s economic development agency. The two have been friends since high school, Nardone said.
The Class C bar license allows for full liquor service and serving prepackaged food. The food likely would be provided by area restaurants, Nardone said. The establishment will also have a retail component, selling cigars and equipment such as cutters.
A private area will be available to those who pay a membership fee. Members will have access to a private club area as well as lockers for the storage of cigar humidors and other items. The facility will have a total of 78 seats. The proposed establishment has been issued a zoning certificate. Zoning Officer Jason Parker said he determined that Vintage Cigar LLC’s use of the space did not constitute a significant change of use and therefore would not require a hearing before the Zoning Board of Review.
Three other social workers, Kristyn Hill, Lauri Maynard, and Jessica Wolke, who market themselves as The Whole Self and who are also tenants of 47 High St., have also filed objection to the cigar bar.
“We meet with clients who are seeking to improve their mental and emotional health. They also have the right to not be subjected to secondhand smoke,” the three wrote.
Nardone said the licensing board’s jurisdiction is limited to whether the facility meets the requirements for a Class C license. Smoke migration will be monitored by the state Department of Health, he said. The state Division of Taxation will monitor the facility to ensure it operates as a retail facility and meets the requirements of “smoking bars.”