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Iraqi Hookah Owner Says Boise Law Is Taking away His Culture

But Boise police say "99.9 percent of business owners and staff, they get it. They're in compliance."

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Ambitiously set in the huge space of the former Play it Again Sports at 8001 W. Fairview Ave., Ed Alghizi's hookah bar, Happy Land, is struggling.

"They don't come," said Alghizi. "A couple people, maybe."

Alghizi and his partner, Lami Abdulridha, were cited for permitting patrons to puff within the building and to smoke cigarettes themselves in a back room.

Additionally, they were charged with allowing a 17-year-old to enter the building, something Alghizi blamed on his doorman, who was also charged.

"When the police officer come, they say, 'Talk to the city,'" said Alghizi. "Why are you working for the city if you don't know [the law]?"

Alghizi said he was met with confusion from Boise City Hall employees and lack of response from the City Attorney's Office.

"This Boise law, they don't give you a chance," he said. "It doesn't make sense."

However, BPD spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said Alghizi and Abdulridha were even given a hard copy of the law by Ralph Blount of the City Attorney's Office.

"Officers went to every business that would be affected before the smoking ban went into place. Ninety-nine point nine percent of business owners and staff, they get it; they're in compliance," said Hightower.

Tobacconists, such as cigar shops, avoid the ban by keeping seating limited, making tobacco 95 percent of their business and offering no live music. According to the law, seating for more than a handful of people and the inclusion of live music--a hookah staple--means no indoor smoke.

Alghizi said he opened the club not more than a month after the bill passed. He acknowledged the lousy timing.

The middle-aged Iraqi father of two speaks English well, a skill he uses to offset his partner, who doesn't speak English well. Together, the two opened Happy Land, which has a posted occupancy, written in magic marker above the door, of 140.

"They're taking my culture away from me," said Alghizi. "What kind of freedom is that? I came to this country for that freedom. I don't see that freedom."

However, Alghizi admits he wouldn't go back home to Iraq, though he misses it "very much." His 18-year-old brother was recently killed fighting in the country.

"You want to move forward, but somebody slap you all the way back," he said.

Alghizi said he feels like he was "kept down" by the law, and will struggle to keep his doors open for the remainder of his three-year lease.

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