It might have been a cool fall evening but the temperature inside the village hall at the Wednesday committee meeting was feverish. Trustee Ed Rusch Jr., who oversees the ordinance, license and public printing committee, used the first 45 minutes of the committee meeting to moderate a discussion with residents regarding the proposed changes in the village smoking ordinance. The changes would open the path to allow smoking establishments (defined as retail tobacco stores) to set up business in town after meeting stringent criteria. The criteria to be considered a retail tobacco store prohibits the business from holding any food, liquor or restaurant license. The establishment must derive more than 80% of its gross revenue from the sale of loose tobacco, plants, or herbs and cigars, cigarettes, pipes, and other smoking devices for burning tobacco and related smoking accessories, the sale of all other products must be considered incidental. One such business that is being proposed is said to be called Musica Café, the potential owners, would like to bring a hookah lounge to Justice at the building at the intersection of 79th street and 85th Avenue.
Due to the efforts of Trustee Rusch many residents in the surrounding neighborhood were notified and able to come out and discuss their concerns and questions regarding hookah bars. Some of the concerns expressed were a lack of parking in the area, the increase of traffic flow to the neighborhood, health risks and concerns, similar businesses in surrounding communities failing, the proposed late hour of the business being open causing a noise disruption to surrounding homes and how to determine the increased financial benefit to the village. Other residents simply came to find out what a hookah bar is. The potential business owner sat in the audience listening, later he spoke and took the floor, encouraging people to be tolerant and accepting of the establishment citing cultural differences for the lack of understanding as to what exactly the proposed business is and will promote. He also lashed out against a group of people who have surreptitiously come out against the proposed establishment by childishly defacing a village logo, surrounding it with smoke and a hookah, and circulating the image on the internet. Then he launched into a tirade directed at John Koslowski, a previously failed People’s Voice Party trustee candidate. He went onto accuse him of making this a political situation, then went onto say that Mr. Koslowski was more than willing to reach out to him and use his help and influence last election in an attempt to gain ground with the voting bloc in the Arab American community.
A hookah lounge, also known as a shisha bar, are establishments where customers share flavored tobacco from a communal hookah which is set up on individual tables. Clean individual mouthpieces are purchased for hygiene purposes. An individual smoking session can last for 40 or more minutes. Popular across Europe and gaining ground in North America in recent years hookah’s have been part of the culture in the middle east since their inception in India in the 1500’s.
One thing that was perfectly clear at last night’s meeting; there are firey opinions on all sides of this situation.