A hookah store owner who believes he was hoodwinked by St. Anthony Village sued the city Monday after he was forced to close his shop because of a newly imposed city smoking ban.
Flamezz Hookah closed in 2012 after its owner, Saeed Kiblawi, unsuccessfully battled the city over a smoking ban it established in 2011 that applied to all of the city’s retail establishments.
“Flamezz Hookah played by the City of Saint Anthony Village’s rules,” Kiblawi’s attorney A.L. Brown wrote in a summons filed in Ramsey County District Court. “The business jumped through the City’s regulatory hoops, cut through its red tape, paid all of its fees, and then finally opened up a profitable business. And right when that business was enjoying a return on its investment, the City of Saint Anthony Village made it a crime to operate the business within the City. The City can do that but not for free.”
The city, in its court filing, denied many of the allegations and asserted that any damages to the shop were caused by the plaintiff’s own negligence and assumption of risk.
In 2010, Kiblawi obtained a tobacco license from the city. Brown wrote that the business was required to make “significant financial investments in the physical facilities” to meet the city’s requirements to operate as a shop where customers can sample tobacco products. One of the investments was for a $40,000 custom-made ventilation system.
The city renewed the shop’s license in March 2011, but a month later passed a smoking ban that made it a crime for the business to operate as a sample shop, Brown said. Kiblawi was charged in December 2011 with violating the ordinance after the business continued to operate.
He was acquitted at trial in March 2012. But later that month, after he applied for a license renewal, the city denied his application and his shop closed, Brown wrote.