Two Rhode Island business owners will continue construction on their upcoming cigar bar after winning a high-profile dispute over a liquor license late last month that received national attention. The local strife erupted after tenants of the Westerly, Rhode Island building—where the cigar bar planned to open—had objected to the proprietors being granted a liquor license based on their personal objections to smoking.
"The hearing was only supposed to determine the quality of our character," said Greg Williams, co-owner of the future Vintage Cigar Lounge & Club. "The chief of police had even given us the OK."
Williams, a retired law enforcement officer, and his partner Jesse Saglio did not expect to meet resistance on these grounds. Yet when they appeared for their hearing, a representative speaking on behalf of the building's tenants spoke out against the cigar bar, citing an opposition to secondhand smoke and concern over fire hazards.
According to Rhode Island state law, cigar bars are permitted as long as the majority of the revenue is generated by tobacco sales.
After the first hearing, a local newspaper, The Westerly Sun, published an article about the dispute, which was subsequently picked up by The Associated Press. In the 24 hours leading up to the second and final hearing, the story was reprinted at various news outlets around the country. Williams believes it was the national recognition that swayed the board in their favor.
"At the beginning of the second hearing the Chamber of Commerce reminded the board that the purpose of this hearing was only to determine whether or not this was a viable business." The board's attorney warned that this could become a constitutional issue if they decided to deny or postpone the granting of a license.
The board voted unanimously in Vintage's favor on January 25, a relief to Williams and Saglio, who claim they wouldn't have been able to operate a business based solely on selling cigars.
"We were ready to take down our sign that day," said Williams, remarking on what would have happened had the license not been granted. "Our entire business model depended on us being allowed to serve alcohol. You can't survive on just selling cigars in Rhode Island."
Vintage Cigar Lounge & Club should open by May 1.
This article first appeared in the February 2, 2016 issue of Cigar Insider.