Model Minority: Smokers

A historic S.F. cigar shop in the Financial District gets complaints from sensitive nonsmokers working nearby

You think it's hard out here for a pimp? Sheeit, bro. Try hawking cigars sometime. You'll go back to pimping faster than Don Imus can say — well, you can guess.

Joe Barron knows the struggle. He co-owns Grant's Tobacconists, one of the few remaining places in San Francisco where cigar and pipe aficionados can light up indoors. But while a pimp worries only about cops, Barron must contend with the longer arm of the PC police. Take the shrew — please — who stalked into his Financial District store not long ago. Fixing a stare as icy as her cold, cold heart on a small group of stogie-puffing men, she clucked, "You should be ashamed of yourselves!"

Admonitions alone from puritanical nonsmokers wouldn't be enough to persuade Barron to curtail smoking hours at the city's oldest cigar and pipe shop. But since there's also the matter of his fragile month-to-month lease, he recently decided to bar patrons from lighting up inside the shop until 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. By that time, he reasons, the Chancery Building — where Grant's occupies a Market Street storefront — will have emptied, reducing the odds of Madame Shrew and her ilk griping about cigar smoke.

A few customers grumbled about the change. After all, as the old saying goes, "Uh, WTF? Isn't this a smoke shop?" Yet Barron believes that limiting the smoking hours for a few months gives him the best chance to return the store to full-time light-up status later this year.

Other commercial tenants in the Chancery have groused to the building's property manager about the cigar scent emanating from Grant's. So Barron and his business partner, hoping to broker a deal for a long-term lease, offered to cut the smoking hours as a show of good faith.

If they can ink a multi-year deal this summer, Barron says, they would upgrade the shop's ventilation system at a cost of $15,000 to $30,000. The new system would prevent cigar clouds from wafting into the building, enabling Grant's customers to fire up that Exquisito Maduro anytime they please. "We're trying to approach this in a reasonable way," Barron says.

But it's not easy. Indeed, between California's anti-smoking laws and the popular misperception of cigar shops as an arm of Big Tobacco, life as a tobacconist can be, as Imus might say, a tough row to hoe.

 
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