Council to think over cigar bar in downtown Hattiesburg

By HASKEL BURNS,

So far, Hattiesburg remains one of the only “progressive” cities in the state to not feature a high-end cigar lounge concept, lagging behind Starkville, Oxford, Tupelo and Ocean Springs in that aspect.

But the Hub City could soon join those ranks, as Hattiesburg City Council members were approached Monday by Matt Senge, majority shareowner of Smokin’ Aces Social Club in Ocean Springs, about the possibility of opening a lounge downtown. Senge took the opportunity during council’s work session to pitch the idea and ask officials to look into allowing the lounge to move into one of two available downtown locations: 325 Pine Street or 129 Walnut Street, in the Bakery Building.

“Our proposal is to bring a premium cigar lounge to a community that’s spoken very loudly over the last month,” Senge said. “We sent a poll over Twitter, and over 12,500 people, their voices were hold very loudly over the week of September 20.

“The premium cigar shop is about bringing people together, not judging them by how much money they spend on a cigar. No matter what demographic you fit in, there’s always a chair for you.”

In addition to cigars, Senge also would like to incorporate a Cuban coffee bar, craft beer and wine into the shop. The shop would feature an air quality control system by Rabbit Air, including a charcoal filter and a HEPA filter.

All smoking would be limited to the inside of the building, but customers would be allowed to purchase cigars at the shop for consumption elsewhere in private.

“What we will not do is allow cigarette smoking, and we don’t allow vaping,” Senge said. “It will be premium cigars only – we’re not talking about blunts or cigarillos or Swisher Sweets. We’re talking about an inventory of between ($25,000 and $75,000) on hand at all times.

“It’s a place where you can gather, leave your problems at the door, come in and chill and relax. Seventeen and a half million people smoke premium cigars in the United States, and the tax revenue that I bring to the city of Ocean Springs on yearly basis is between $15,000 and $20,000, so I’m sure the city can find a way to use those funds.”

Mayor Toby Barker said Hattiesburg does have an indoor smoking ban, but is one of the only cities in the state that did not leave an exception for cigars.

“This is not new territory – most cities that have passed that smoke-free ban have included exceptions,” he said. “I think we’re going to go look at some potential ordinances and bring it back (to council).

“We’re going to go do some research for you, but I would think any ordinance would be confined to a building with a proper ventilation system.”

Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado, who participated in the meeting via teleconference, said although she in is favor of filling empty buildings downtown, she would oppose the idea of a cigar bar.

“We need to make sure we support responsible occupation of our downtown areas,” she said. “For us to say we want a healthy community, what does it say to young people when we say that a great way for recreation is to go to a place that allows smoking?

“We need to be a healthy community, and I cannot help but think that this is a slap in the face for those who advocate for the health and well-being of the citizens of our community. It will not have my support.”