GRAND RAPIDS — The new owner of a long-time cigar store in Grand Rapids wants to expand the shop’s offerings and give patrons more reason to hang out and smoke.
BKKA LLC’s Bernard Kersten, who acquired Buffalo Tobacco Traders on Aug. 3 from long-time owner Bob Weronka, will ask the Grand Rapids Planning Commission later this month for permission to add a bar to the shop at 952 East Fulton St. in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids.
The special land use permit would allow the sale and on-premise consumption of alcoholic beverages at Buffalo Tobacco, which has been in operation since 1972.
Kersten — who also owns Italian restaurant Big O’s Cafe and cocktail lounge Sidebar, both located at 80 Ottawa Ave. NW in downtown Grand Rapids — told MiBiz he hopes to open the bar by Dec. 1 of this year if he receives the necessary approvals.
The shop’s new owner was hesitant to detail the specific plans for the added bar, noting that he has yet to get final approval from the city. However, he did say the cocktail lounge would be modeled after Sidebar with drinks starting in the $10 range. The lounge would also offer beer and wine, he added.
“The proposed use will merely supplement the existing use with the addition of a bar and cocktail lounge, all in one relaxing location,” Kersten wrote in his application to the city. “The opportunity to experience both in one location will draw wanted attention to the corridor, and will promote growth to all businesses in the proximate area.”
Terms of the deal in which Kersten acquired the Buffalo Tobacco business from Weronka were not disclosed. Kersten is leasing the space in the building, which is owned by a trust registered to Weronka, according to property records.
Kersten said he has no plans for significant changes to the retail business, adding that he’s still working through some of the regulatory hurdles involved with combining the sales of tobacco products and alcohol. The two parts of the business may have to be separated, he said.
Grand Rapids has a couple of of cigar bars, including Grand River Cigar Bar & Lounge at 114 E. Fulton St. and La Dolce Vita in The Chop House at 190 Monroe Ave. NW.
When the state passed its smoking ban in 2010, it included an exemption for cigar shops. According to state documents, as long as 10 percent or more of an operation’s gross annual income comes from sales from an on-site humidor, a cigar shop can sell food and drink and allow smoking.
The exemption also outlines a handful of other criteria, including the banning of other smoking products such as cigarettes.
With the addition of a bar, Kersten said he expects to hire two to three full-time employees and eight to 10 part-time workers.