News

Say Goodbye to Hookah

Boise hookah bars extinguished

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Two citizens are taking exception to the city's new anti-smoking ordinances. In particular, Mikel Hautzinger and Miles Stirewalt are worried that the new rules have snuffed out the city's hookah bars. They have gone as far to ask the city for a full analysis of the no-smoking ordinances, studying the economic impact of the rules, which went into effect Jan. 2.

"I'm familiar with that," said Mayor's Office spokesman Adam Park, who confirmed that city officials had received Hautzinger and Stirewalt's request. "At this point, the city is reviewing their filing and we'll be providing a response within the required time frame."

Boise City staff have 42 days to respond to Hautzinger and Stirewalt's claim.

But that's not going to help the Babylon Club on Curtis Road anytime soon. The hookah bar has closed its doors, a sign in the window promising that it will re-open soon.

"Everybody should be following those ordinances now," said Charles McClure with the Boise Police Department. "Certainly, that ordinance is in effect. As for the need to enforce it, that's now. They're open to citation now."

While the owner of Babylon is currently in Iraq visiting family, the owners of the Middle Eastern Market next door said the hookah business plans to move to Garden City--if it can find the space.

The owner of the Ali Baba hookah bar on Broadway Avenue said he's already made plans to head to Garden City. Ali Alsudani said he has picked out his new location: the currently vacant Veterans of Foreign Wars building on Chinden Boulevard. He plans to move in early February.

"I'm going to be spending a lot of money," said Alsudani. "Something like $60,000."

But Alsudani said there's some "silver lining." The new facility is larger and offers more parking. Alsudani said he'll lose customers but at least the smoke will continue to rise.

Hautzinger said plans for a third hookah bar, hoping to launch before the ordinances passed, was scuttled before it could open its doors.

"When we met with [the potential bar owner], he had literally just gotten out from underneath his car [loan] so that he could sell his car," she said. "He bought his business in December, took out personal loans of $30,000, and he can't even open."

Park said the ordinances allow for smoking establishments if they can meet the requirements of the law, in the same way Hannifin's Cigar Shop meets the tobacconist requirement (BW, News, "Cigar Shops, Then and Now," Jan. 18, 2012). However the language provides for strict restrictions on the business model.

"The status as an exclusive retail tobacco business is lost if at any time the business premises provide seating for more than four patrons, or is used to sell or serve food or drink, vend lottery tickets or newspapers or magazines not primarily for tobacco enthusiasts, or if the premises are used for dancing, karaoke, gaming, or live entertainment or performance of any kind," reads the text of the ordinance.

Park summed up their options:

"They either have a choice to reconsider their business to become compliant with the ordinance, or they could become a social club that doesn't allow smoking," he said.