Letting a business thrive in Keene? Close, but no cigar, by John McGauley

So, a cigar bar in Keene was evicted by its landlords because of “ongoing” complaints of … get this … the odor of smoke.

Only in Keene. That’s what makes it such a fun place: We fight way above our weight in stupid stories.

Since I’m bored and have a lot of time on my hands, you know, being sequestered from society because of the virus, I’ve been poring over subjects that normally wouldn’t occupy me for more than a minute, like why does ear hair grow so fast and why do dryers spin only in a clockwise direction?

Let me deconstruct this story.

First, why this particular man-bites-dog newsburger — a cigar store kicked out for smoking — didn’t make the national Associated Press wire is a mystery to me. The only reason I can imagine is that COVID-19 and racial justice coverage have sucked in all the news oxygen. It’s a story just waiting for a funny headline.

But wait! Isn’t a Corona one of the most common types of cigars? That should have given the story a national peg.

The place was called Castro’s at The Station Cigar Bar — an unusually long name, don’t you think? They’d been renting a spot at The Center at Colony Mill shopping and office plaza since 2016.

First of all, why does The Center at Colony Mill have the fancy capital-T “The” at the beginning of its name? Are there other Centers at Colony Mill that have usurped the name and are simply pretenders? I mean, there’s The Smithsonian and The Vatican, but a measly little strip mall doesn’t need “The.”

Parenthetically, The Center at Colony Mill should really be called That Place That Cannot be Named. No one in town really knows its actual name because it’s been bought and sold and renamed about a dozen times, just like our local hospital, which I last checked was called Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center at Keene/Cheshire County Clinic in Keene. About the only thing missing there is “hospital.” Next year the name Catholic Medical Center will be added to it.

People just call The Center at Colony Mill “That place, you know, that spot where … well … Penelope’s is there, where the guy puts all that old furniture out on the sidewalk.”

OK, now you know where I’m talking about.

Now, The Center at Colony Mill was bought from Brady Sullivan Properties in 2018 by Lexington Realty International, a New Jersey-based company that manages properties across the country. Before Brady Sullivan owned it, I believe some Saudi Arabian outfit had it; then it became a subsidiary of the Green Bay Packers and before that some guy who wore a cape and hung out downtown near the Corner News held title to it. It has a murky past.

The spot these cigar people rented in that complex had been a half-dozen other joints before them, including, if my memory serves me correctly, a hookah bar. It might have been a sports or dance bar of some sort before that, and before that I think it was a store that sold rabbits and other small animals. My memory is not so clear on this matter.

Unlike the previous businesses in that spot, I noticed that it always did a fairly lively business. There must be more cigar smokers in this area than I suspected. The owners of this place also have four other cigar bars, in Manchester, Nashua, Concord and Londonderry. James Tiso, property manager at The Center at Colony Mill, said the complaints about the cigar odor started before Lexington Realty took over the property.

“It was not one or two tenants (who complained); it was multiple tenants and multiple clients and multiple, multiple, multiple complaints over the years,” Tiso was quoted as saying.

Is that enough “multiples” in one sentence? If I had been the reporter writing this story, I would have had some fun with Tiso and coaxed out a few more “multiples.”

Now, Tiso said that many of the complaints came from the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hitchcock-Dartmouth Medical Center at Keene Cheshire County Clinic in Keene Walk-in Care Center, located on the other side of the center from the cigar bar. Is that enough “centers” in one sentence?

He said they had consistently had issues not only with the odor of cigar smoke, but the sight of smoke in their offices. I guess that’s not a good thing to be waving away cigar smoke as you examine a patient, especially one suffering from COPD.

“The formal eviction process (didn’t) start until this year,” Tiso said, “but we sent out multiple registered letters, that these were issues, that they needed to be addressed, until finally it was clear they weren’t going to do anything to change.”

Note: there it is again — “multiple” registered letters. Stop!

Oh, there’s much more to this story, I’m sure, as there always is in Keene. I’m sure if you peeled the onion, some lawyers would appear, city building inspectors, HVAC consultants, two or three City Council members, the Free Staters and the solar-power fanatics. By the way, I never knew what HVAC stood for, but looked it up — heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.

“Come on, open this door and come out with your hands up! We’re with HVAC!”

No story in Keene occurs without at least a hundred people being involved, and the rest of the 23,000 residents having strong and strident opinions one way or the other, usually along political party lines.

The owners of the cigar bar sent up the white flag and said they’d abandon Keene and use their money to expand their Londonderry operation.

Another business lost. Why couldn’t our city fathers and mothers have stepped in and facilitated this cigar bar’s relocation to the old Kingsbury property? Cigar smoke smell over there would be a vast improvement.

But I have a confession to make. I actually like the smell of cigar smoke. I’ve enjoyed it multiple, multiple, multiple times.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk show host, writes from Keene. He can be contacted at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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