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Jul 25, 1:31 PM EDT

Smoking ban exemption's end could doom cigar business


ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The smoking ban that went into force in St. Louis in 2011 included a five-year exemption for the Charles P. Stanley Cigar Company and Lounge. With the exemption expiring at the end of the year, Stanley worries that his business won't survive.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports ( http://bit.ly/1RJrsj0 ) that the city seems unlikely to extend exemptions for the cigar company and a few other businesses. Mayor Francis Slay's chief of staff, Mary Ellen Ponder, says Slay does not support extending the exemptions.

The company went out of business in 1935 but Stanley and other relatives resurrected the name in 2011. The cigar bar sells more than 1,000 varieties of cigars and has become a popular destination in downtown's loft district, drawing customers from around the region as well as out-of-town guests.

Stanley hopes the city will reconsider for a business that got its start in 1876, when Stanley's great-grandfather began selling cigars. Customers reportedly included President Ulysses S. Grant.

"This would put us out of business," Stanley said. "We won't be able to stay open. Our business model is built around smoking."

Stanley said business is "wonderful." He said the uniqueness of the bar has helped it become a stable business in the city but uncertainty over the smoking ban exemptions has prevented him from attending cigar conventions, buying more stock, and investing more in his space, which includes large screen TVs, couches, and top-shelf liquor.

Alderman Jack Coatar said he is "exploring legislative options."

"I'd like to keep existing businesses in business," Coatar said, whose ward includes Stanley's downtown cigar bar.

The Missouri Athletic Club, a private social organization downtown, was fined in 2011 for continuing to allow smoking. The city eventually reached an agreement with the organization, dropped the fines, and allowed smoking in four areas of the club. The mayor's office says it plans to review the club's status.

Bill Kapes, owner of Riley's Pub in the city's Tower Grove East neighborhood, got a smoking exemption license five years ago. But now, he said, it's not as necessary to his business.

Kapes plans to alter the back patio of Riley's by building a wind block for smoking customers when his smoking license exemption expires.

"We would have lost a ton of business five years ago," Kapes said. "But now, smokers know they have to go outside. They don't feel entitled anymore."

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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