New business sparks amendment conversation in Inver Grove Heights

The Inver Grove Heights City Council on June 10 unanimously voted to approve the first reading of an ordinance amendment that would allow for sampling premium cigars in stores, a move that allows for a new business to come to town.

City attorney Tim Kuntz said at the meeting that the city lets Dakota County handle its tobacco shop licensing, and that there are state statutes that allow for sampling tobacco products in a tobacco shop.

Sampling means someone purchases an item, such as a cigar, then lights it and smokes it in-shop to decide if they'd like to purchase more. Though the state allows this, cities can be more restrictive.

"To that end, in November of 2015, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting the sampling of tobacco products in tobacco product shops," Kuntz said.

Recently, a business, Perfect Ash, approached the city for a limited exception to allow sampling under certain circumstances. The ordinance amendment would allow, as an exception to the general prohibition, the sampling of premium cigars and pipe tobacco in a shop that meets the definition of a tobacco product shop.

Sampling would only be allowed for people 21 and older at retail shops that sell only premium cigars and pipe tobacco, but no cigarettes or any other form of tobacco or tobacco product. 

Kuntz said a premium cigar is defined under state tax law as "any cigar that is hand-constructed, has a wrapper that is made entirely from whole tobacco leaf, has a filler and binder that is made entirely of tobacco, except of adhesives and other materials used to maintain size, texture or flavor, and has a wholesale price of no less than $2." The city adopted the same definition.

 

Finding a new location

Lee Hutton, whose wife, Diana, owns Perfect Ash, told the council they are excited to bring their business to Inver Grove Heights.

"We chose this for a specific reason. That reason is because I think there's good people here. I think there's good business opportunities and quite frankly, when we were in Lilydale, many of the residents from Inver Grove Heights used to visit us there," Lee said. 

Diana bought the business in 2014, which had been in the same location for 40 years. She said after a few years they were "kindly invited to leave." 

She said the shop caters to customers who are generally older, retired men and veterans — "People who really just want to come and be in a good environment where everybody knows their name and where they can just sit and relax and be out of the house, which is something the wives actually appreciate as well."

 

 

A tobacco lounge or shop?

Council member Rosemary Piekarski Krech asked if people come to the shop to spend a lot of time. Diana said sometimes they do, prompting Piekarski Krech to wonder if the ordinance is being written appropriately if people are going to be sitting around smoking instead of trying a product to see if they want to purchase it. 

Lee said the Clean Indoor Act carved out language related to sampling. He said indoor sampling is important because a cigar aficionado who may purchase a product can't do that in just a couple minutes.

"You can't drink a coffee in five minutes, and so people would stay in Starbucks for an hour, hour-and-a-half to enjoy their beverage," Lee said, pointing out Perfect Ash has a similar concept. For most cigars, someone could take an hour, or even three, to enjoy them before deciding to buy more.

The second and final reading of the ordinance is scheduled for June 24.

 

–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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