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Erik Burgess, Published January 23 2013

Fargo’s JT Cigarro changing ownership

FARGO – It appears the smoke is beginning to clear at JT Cigarro.

A new owner is coming to the south Fargo bar and cigar lounge, and he told The Forum on Wednesday that lighting up indoors is “yesterday’s news.”

The previous owner was allowing patrons to smoke indoors through what he called a “loophole” in the new statewide puffing ban. New owner Barrett Prody, who also owns Sunseekers Tanning Company, said he was ready to move beyond the smoking controversy.

“I’m not a fan of indoor smoke myself, personally,” he said. “I don’t want to walk into a building and be exposed to smoke.”

Prody said the deal to transfer the business to him from previous owner Dana Coulter will close today. The City Commission still has to OK the transfer of the liquor license at its next meeting on Feb. 4.

At a meeting of the city’s Liquor Control Committee on Wednesday, Police Chief Keith Ternes said he was only willing to approve the transfer of the liquor license if Prody assured the committee smoking would not be occurring indoors once he assumed ownership, according to minutes of the meeting.

Coulter had been allowing customers to smoke in a locked, “members only” room that required an electronic key card to enter. He said because the room wasn’t accessible to the general public, it fell under an exemption to the state ban that became effective in early December.

In late December, Ruth Bachmeier, the director of Fargo Cass Public Health, said she had filed a formal complaint with the Cass County state’s attorney’s office, arguing that Coulter was misreading the exemption. Charges against Coulter were halted when it became apparent he was selling the business.

When reached Wednesday afternoon, Coulter said he had no comment.

All smokers will now be directed outdoors, Prody said. What was being used as the smoking room will be renovated into a new kitchen and bar area called the JT Cigarro Lounge and Grill.

“It’s a business decision. In my eyes, it’s an inefficient use of the real estate,” Prody said of designating one room for smoking. “The vast majority of people that come in here and buy cigars just come in and leave with them. Most people don’t sit in here and smoke.”

The humidor that holds the cigar selection will be renovated into a kitchen. A new humidor will be constructed in the upstairs Skky Bar, and cigars will still be available for purchase.

Prody said he plans on building a heated smoking shack outside the bar, 20 feet away – the distance the ban requires.

Construction will begin in February, and the bar will remain open the entire time, Prody said. He hopes to open the new grill area sometime in March.

Prody is the brother of Christine Prody of Moorhead, the ex-girlfriend of NFL Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson. In 2009, Barrett Prody set up a legal defense fund for Simpson, who made headlines for visiting JT Cigarro in June 2008 on his way to a golfing event in Ottertail, Minn.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518

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