A Bunch of Bull at Bull & Bear in St. Charles IL

By Kevin Godbee

The landlord for the Bull & Bear Tobacco Shop is trying to evict them because of complaints about smoking. The matter has gone to court.

Bull & Bear’s lease explicitly states that smoking will be allowed "in and upon the premises" … and they have been there for 14 years!


UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 11, 2011 – In a statement to PipesMagazine.com after our follow up email, Zee Harmon, the owner of Bull & Bear said; "The judge agreed to hear ‘summary judgment’ of our case, and we are pleased that he ruled in our favor. We look forward to continue offering fine cigars, pipes, and smoking accessories to our customers as we have done the past 16 years."


So why all of a sudden is there a problem?

In this writer’s opinion it’s about two things … and I bet you already guessed them. 1) Money (It’s almost always about money), and 2) Vilification of smokers.

It’s ironic that St. Charles, Illinois is home to the largest and longest running pipe & tobacco show in the world, but now pipe and cigar smokers (and a small business) are being discriminated against there.

Last May, while attending the The Chicagoland Int’l Pipe & Tobacciana Show, we paid a visit, and published an article on the Bull & Bear Tobacco Shop. This is a fabulous tobacconist with an impressive array of cigars, pipes and tobaccos, and a comfortable smoking lounge. Suddenly, after 14 years of smoking at Bull & Bear, and having a lease that allows it, Bull & Bear’s landlord is trying to evict them.

The landlord, ShoDeen Management, says there are complaints from other tenants in the strip mall about the smell of smoke. ShoDeen Management says that unpleasant odors are coming from the store and the smoke makes it unsanitary and, thus, violating the lease.

"We’re just asking the court to uphold our lease rights," said Tracy Stevenson, attorney for the Gintanas LLC, which owns the shop. "The lease specifically allows us to smoke in the unit. We don’t feel this is a breach of the lease."

In a lawsuit filed in Kane County in February 2011, Stevenson cites a 1997 lease that explicitly states that smoking will be allowed "in and upon the premises" at 1 W. Illinois St., Suites 1110 and 120. The lawsuit was filed after discussing the issue for a year, and finally an eviction notice being served.

The suit, which asks a judge to rule on whether the lease has been violated, also notes numerous air filters, purifiers and ionization units, along with an exhaust vent, the tenant installed and maintains to minimize the odor.

The suit also seeks to have ShoDeen fix cracks in the walls or ceiling if smoke is seeping through to other areas.

The suit contends that ShoDeen told the Bull & Bear staff on Feb. 10 there were complaints of smoke emanating from the store and on Feb. 21, ShoDeen sent a notice, saying the tenant had 20 days to correct lease violations for "unpleasant odors" coming from the store.

Phone messages left at ShoDeen’s Geneva office and with its Chicago attorney were not returned.

Stevenson said ShoDeen has not responded to their efforts to resolve the situation so court was a last resort. Stevenson said her client recently renewed the lease through 2014.

This is where the money part comes in.

In addition to the ever-popular sport of demonizing smokers, we all know that rents go up when old tenants move out and new tenants move in.

Feedback from neighbors was mixed.

A woman who answered the phone at Illusions Hair and Nail Salon, which is next door to the tobacco shop, said customers complain all the time about the smell and one woman’s coat smelled so bad she thought it was hung next to a stylist who smokes.

"This is a huge issue," said the stylist, who declined to give her name. A message left with the salon owner was not returned.

Kimberly Elam, owner of Kimmers Ice Cream, also at 1 W. Illinois St., said the smoke has not been an issue since she bought the ice cream shop four months ago.

The manager at Bistro One West, a restaurant in same building to the east, also said the smell is not a concern. Officials at ALE Solutions, which is in an office suite above the tobacco shop, declined to comment.

When I spoke to store owner Zita Harmon yesterday, she asserted that several employees of her neighboring tenants go outside to smoke cigarettes and then return to work. "Isn’t it more likely that they are smelling the smoke on their own co-workers standing right next to them than from a lounge 100 feet away with a professional air filtration system?"

For the smokers in the audience, which are probably most of you, have you ever seen something like this … You are walking down the street with your UNLIT pipe (or cigar) in your mouth and as you are approaching someone they cover their nose or fake cough as a way of protest? That is what is going on in St. Charles. The smell of smoke 20, 30, 40, 50 feet away is imaginary.

For those of you that have the luxury of smoking in your own home, you will understand the next part very well. Some of us smoke in our homes and have no air purifiers or filtration systems. I think we can admit that the house does smell like someone smokes in it. Others may have air purifiers and such, and the smell of smoke may or may not be detectable. Bull & Bear has one of the best air filtration systems on the market. An individual smoking in you own home is one thing. Now think of a smoking lounge with several people smoking pipes and cigars every day. When I personally visited Bull & Bear there was no detectable odor whatsoever. This was between 10:30 – 11:00 am. No one was smoking at the time. The point is that the filtration system did its’ job so well that there were no traces that smoking had taken place.

Bull & Bear has asked a judge to immediately rule that it has the right, under its lease, to allow patrons to smoke in their lounge.

The motion is scheduled to be argued before a Kane County judge in Geneva on Aug. 31. The judge will then rule on whether the matter should be resolved at that time or go to trial later.

Kevin Godbee is the Operating Manager of Right Click Media, LLC, which is the the owner & publisher of PipesMagazine.com. Kevin started smoking pipes and cigars in 1998 and started the online magazine & community site, Cigar-Review.com in 2005. The site was acquired in 2008 and no longer exists. PipesMagazine.com was launched in 2009.

In the beginning of his career, Kevin worked in the hobby and specialty toy business for 16 years in sales, marketing, advertising and product development for three different manufacturers, and with his own company.

Over the last 10 years working in the online business, he has become an expert in Internet Marketing and SEO. Kevin is also a Certified Salesforce Tobacconist (CST) through Tobacconist University. In his spare time he sings, plays guitar, cooks, and takes long walks on the beach. (Seriously, you should see how tan he is right now.) Kevin can be reached at 976-DUDE.


28 Responses

  • The only complaining neighbor was a hair stylist? The fumes from salons are lethal and they use many dangerous chemicals in their perms, relaxers, and dyes. Even the “organic” salon near me smells strong enough to choke an elephant.

  • I find it humours that a hair salon would complain about smoke. Have you ever stepped foot in one of those places? The horrible old lady perfumes that the ladies pour on themselves by the bottle, the nail polish and remover, the hair dye, it’s enough in there to make you sick or get really stoned. Hopefully the judges sees it for the b.s. it is and tells the landlord to buzz off and let them go back to work.

  • This definitely sounds like the neighboring tenants are trying to use Bull & Bear as a scapegoat to their own problems, not wanting to chase off their own clientele. What a shame, when people won’t take responsibility for their own. I hope they beat the socks off their landlord. I would say that the landlord has also been trying to find a way to boot them from the location and this was their opportunity, so they could raise the rent for new tenants.
    This kind of crap is unsettling and ridiculous. Keep going forward Bull & Bear.

  • That just blows. If I was them I would complain about the toxic chemicals and smell coming out of the salon. Personal rights are personal rights. We as a country have let the anti’s take away our rights little by little and we just bend over and take it. I am glade to see that the shop is not going to take it laying down. Even here The biggest shop in town had to buy there own building just to stay in business.

  • What a crock!!! I have been in Bull & Bear on many occasions and have never smelled smoke. My mother goes there frequently to purchase tins for me and she is a NON-SMOKER and she says she loves the aromas of the shops tobaccos, and never detects a oder of smoke.

  • We face a similar situation at the store I work at: El Humidor, Wilkes-Barre, PA. Even though we are officially exempt from the PA Clean Air Act, our neighbors in the strip mall complained. The local code official was ready to close us down despite, like Bull & Bear, the use of air filtration systems and a nightly ozone treatment. We found that the fire walls were not built up to the roof, a violation of current code (but not when they were installed). So we put in fireproof insulation up to the roof. This has had the effect of diminishing the smell of smoke to our neighbors. They complain less. But if they do, the code enforcement officer is ready to close us down.

  • What lease provision is being invoked to support the eviction? Generally speaking, contract provisions added to apply to specific issues (i.e., allowing smoking on the premises) will prevail over inconsistent “general” terms, such as “peaceful enjoyment.” Lawyer-up and make the bastards pay your court costs.

  • This has become epidemic and is way out of hand. Smokers, being the latest target of misplaced discontent that spans the gamut from cancer to hair loss, the world financial crisis to hang nails. We seem to the the cause of it all. The fear mongering machine keeps churning out articles and clips demonizing smoking and smokers. It boarders on slander and absolutely tramples on our rights as guaranteed by our constitution.
    Enough is enough!

  • Yeah, this just reeks of money being the root of all evil. Does anyone have any doubt that the owner of the building doesn’t have someone already lined up for immediate possession of the space at a much higher rent??
    You would think a rational judge would invoke some common sense and tell the owner that if you rent a property to a business in which smoking is specifically permitted that it might smell of smoke.

  • docgarr said: “… the fire walls were not built up to the roof, a violation of current code (but not when they were installed)”. That is the strip mall’s problem, not the tenants’. Let THEM fix it.

  • Greetings all,
    Being a former tobacco shop owner (Village Smoke Shop, Scottsdale, AZ – closed it in ’05 after a 10 year run), I can tell you that complaints from anti’s were constant. Smoke odors, whether real or imaginary, were always a problem. In this day and age, shops located in a strip malls, with adjoining walls, are becoming a thing of the past, just like tobacco shops in enclosed shopping malls. All gone.
    Landlords will not renew leases, or rent to you in the first place. I’ve thought of opening another store here in CO, but every landlord I’ve talked to will not lease to any tobacco business that allows smoking on THEIR premises.
    A stand-alone building is the ONLY (albeit expensive) option now. I’m afraid the folks at the Bull & Bear are ultimately going to have to move to their own, separate building. Examples are McCranie’s, Iwan Reis, and Stag Tobacconist here in CO Springs. All OWN stand-alone structures, and receive zero complaints from anyone. They OWN their buildings, with controlled overhead costs, no yearly rent increases, and best of all, no eviction threats.
    The tobacco business is difficult, with so many enemies coming at you from every direction. From the government trying to regulate and tax you out of existence, landlords trying to evict you, to passerby’s complaining about the smell. It’s really a shame that it’s come to this, but such is the world today.
    I miss the business very much, but I don’t miss the harassment and headaches.
    Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I wish the Bull & Bear good luck. I feel your pain.

  • It is hard for a smoker to smell smoke. The first time I stopped at this fine establishment, I hung around for about five minutes talking to several customers smoking cigars in the lounge. I smoked nothing. When I got home about 20 minutes later, my wife commented that I smelled of smoke. BUT, she is very allergic to smoke.
    I support this store in their legal battle. I think they are great.

  • Hello everyone,
    The worst I fear is right around the corner. Wait untill the heavy hitters chime in like insurance companies. When they stipulate that if you are a smoker ( swab test) they won’t cover you…period ! We gave all or most of our rights and freedoms away. The last of the Mohicans my friends,

  • I hope we don’t remember these times as “the golden days”, but I fear problems like this are ever increasing.

  • I’m afraid we’re getting to the point in today’s society where we, as pipe smokers are going to have to band together and form private smoking clubs. I would gladly pay a hefty yearly membership fee for the freedom to go somewhere and smoke any time I felt like it, without having to spend money for each visit. Here in Nevada, even my local pipe store is somewhat problematic to smoke in, because every time I go there I end up spending $10.-$15. on tobacco or accessories that I really don’t need. Over a year, going even once a week, that’s over $500.00!
    We also have myriad casinos here where one can smoke, pipes included. But that, too can get very expensive, if you’re on a losing streak and want to finish your pipe! I’d rather just pay an upfront fee for the year and forget about it.
    For me, pipe smoking is all about peace, quiet, and pleasant tastes. I’d rather smoke my pipe in private, away from the pleasure hating ideologues who feel compelled to cough or make a comment every time they see a pipe or cigar, lit or unlit. Just leave me alone to smoke my pipe, and I’m happy.
    Kevin Cardiff

  • Cigar clubs seem to be popping up all over New Jersey (my work travel area). That might be the theme of the future as Kevin described. Solidarity in numbers!

  • My wife is a beautician so I am aware of the chemicals and odors of these chemicals that emanate from their use. It’s hard to complain about imaginary smoke from the interior of a building when these harmful chemicals are much stronger.
    Yes. I have a air-waving who objects about my pipe smoke even when I’m not smoking and she used to smoke way more than I do.

  • B&B should do the exact same thing. You claim that “unpleasant odors” are coming from the Hair Salon, thus “makes it unsanitary” and is “violating the lease” of the hair salon. Claim “one gentleman’s coat smelled so bad that we thought it was hung next to a gentleman who goes to the salon.”

  • On the subject of chemicals in the air: any burning process produces carbon monoxide, which is a by-product of combustion. Go to your local shopping mall, and it’s likely you’ll be exposed to all sorts of chemicals and particulates. When I lived in MD, the Towsontown Center mall used to have a nail salon right next to an incense shop! You could almost stand outside the two stores and get high on the combination of banana oil ester and sandalwood. But nobody ever complained that this could possibly be any danger to health. A pipe shop would have been far preferable.
    Today, tobacco is the cause of everything wrong in the world. If you smoke, not only are you killing yourself, but risk killing anybody nearby with second hand smoke, which makes you a genocidal war criminal!
    Never mind that Americans are fatter than ever, and that diseases related to obesity – heart disease, strokes, several cancers, diabetes, etc.,etc. kill more people than lung cancer ever did.

  • To put this all to rest…..recently MT.Etna blew a gasket . Spewing toxic gases and billowing smoke into the atmosphere. This happens as we all know across the globe. Factories around the world, cars, ect. Yet a guy with a pipe or cigar..hang em ! Go figure.

  • What could possibly be unsanitary about the byproducts of combustion? Heat has already killed any germs, yeasts or viruses that could have been lurking in the raw/unburnt tobacco, so what is unsanitary in the smoke? It sounds like a bogus “garbage-science” argument to me. TYPICAL!

  • Thanks to all of you who have shared very kind words of support in our long battle with the landlord of the Bull & Bear Ltd Tobacco Shop. You have no idea how much your support has been appreciated!

  • I am with the majority here in that the hair salon is probably a worse offender that the B&B in having “toxic fumes” emanating from the store. I am glad to hear that at least one judge has some sense left and sided with the B&B.

  • Hmmm, I have been in both kinds of stores, and I know the one I dread walking into is a salon, the smell of all those chemicals being put on hair is unbearable.
    I wish the store many more years of business. I am glad they won.

  • Congratulations Zita! We owe a lot to people like you who are on the front line in the battle for our rights. It’s encouraging to see that there’s a LITTLE sanity left in the world.

  • Rock and Roll! A judge steps in with some sanity. Now I can respond to this article without cursing.