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Published August 20, 2009, 12:00 AM

JT Cigarro under new scrutiny

Bar, tobacconist status in doubt over smoking
Fargo’s city attorney will be asked to wade into the cloudy issue of whether the new JT Cigarro bar and its co-located retail tobacco store violate a city ordinance against smoking in a bar.

By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM

Fargo’s city attorney will be asked to wade into the cloudy issue of whether the new JT Cigarro bar and its co-located retail tobacco store violate a city ordinance against smoking in a bar.

The Liquor Control Board discussed the case Wednesday, acting on complaints from other bar owners and Fargo Cass Public Health.

Public Health’s tobacco coordinator Bette Deede told the board that JT Cigarro owner Dana Coulter was cautioned that the retail tobacco store must be free-standing to prevent smoke infiltration into the bar or a second-floor lounge.

“We feel that 30 years of science will tell us there will be infiltrating unless the building is free-standing,” Deede said.

Coulter, for his part, told the board he wasn’t warned of the problem until he received a letter from Public Health after he started his new building at 4554 7th Ave. S.

The building opened for business two months ago.

“I received the letter after I was $700,000 into the construction,” Coulter said, adding “I feel threatened.”

City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said the JT Cigarro case is also seen by the city’s other bar owners as a potentially unfair competitive advantage. Those businesses had to drop smoking, and may wish to open a “tobacco shop” like JT Cigarro to cater to smoking customers, he said.

“My main concern is everyone is living by the same rules,” Piepkorn said.

Coulter said he installed an air-handling system that prevents smoke infiltration from the tobacco store into his bar or a second-floor lounge.

Fargo’s indoor smoking ordinance does allow for tobacco shops.

However, City Auditor Steve Sprague said the city ruled early on that tobacco shops couldn’t simply be a closet or a room separated by a door in a bar.

Coulter was sent a letter on the issue Feb. 17 by Fargo Cass Public Health.

The letter said Coulter would get a building permit “with the guarantee there will be no indoor smoking in the new JT Cigarro lounge and retail store.”

“But now there’s smoking. It bothers me that there was an agreement” that appears to not have been kept, Sprague said.

Sprague said an inspection found no smoking in the liquor establishment.

Determining what punishment, if any, could be levied if Coulter is found to be in the wrong is difficult to determine, officials said.

Sprague doesn’t believe Coulter’s liquor license would be affected because he’s done nothing to violate the terms of that license.

Still, short of a solution being found through mediation between Coulter and Public Health, Sprague said the issue could end up in court.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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