Smoking ban impact during Masters week

Monday, April 8, 2019
News 12 at 11

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Last year, Augusta commissioners approved to ban smoking and vaping in most public spaces. A lot of people are fine with the ban, but local cigar stores told News 12 they are feeling it, especially during Masters week.

"It's a big week for me. It's 12% of my year," said Russell Wilder, the owner of Top Shelf Cigar.

He looks forward to this week, setting up a tent right in front of hooters on Washington Road. But with the smoking ban, there's no tent this year.

"When it came up several years ago, the Augusta commission turned it down, and they let it pass this time with no reasonable exceptions for anything," said Wilder.

He says it's taking away the rights of business owners and some cigar loving patrons.

"We all enjoy a cigar whether it's on the course or in a place like this and it's been great," said Bryan Peterson, a patron from Overland Park, Kansas.

He says the new smoking ban is disappointing.

"Cigar smoking which doesn't carry the stigma of cigarettes, but at the same time it's hard to find a nice place to enjoy a cigar," said Peterson.

Russell wants to change that by opening a bar where these gentlemen could still enjoy a smoke.

Since his shop is in Columbia County he can't sell alcohol unless he sells food so he set his sights elsewhere.

“With all the cyber and all the growth that's coming downtown I started doing a little research of doing a cigar bar in Augusta," said Wilder.

He wanted to bring something new to Augusta and provide some jobs in the process.

"It's a really good complement to what downtown's becoming if you go to any big city there is a cigar bar," said Wilder.

"Bourbon, scotch they go with a cigar every time we want one so we would love to be able to have that opportunity," said Peterson.

But he says the smoking ban changed that.

"The idea is not dead but Augusta is off-limits,” said Wilder.

But he's not giving up on Columbia County. He's hoping to open up shop in downtown Evans one day but don't look for his cigar tent along Washington Road this year.