WHEELING - Mike Kralovic is able to do what Trey Santorine could not: have people legally smoke a hookah pipe inside a Wheeling business.
Kralovic, co-owner of the Tobacco Warehouse, 4300 Jacob St., says he's sold hookahs and shisha tobacco for years at his establishment.
And like most tobacco stores in Ohio County, he is permitted by the Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health to allow people to try his products inside the establishment. It is one of the exceptions to the county board's smoking ban rule, also known at the Clean Indoor Air Act.
Photo by Shelley Hanson
Mike Kralovic, co-owner of the Tobacco Warehouse, displays hookahs for sale at his business’ smoking lounge area.
Hookah smoking involves using a water pipe with flavored tobacco.
Kralovic is currently advertising his business as a tobacco warehouse with a hookah lounge. He admitted after hearing about Santorine's plan to try an open a hookah bar - a plan that the board of health denied - that he wanted to change his marketing strategy and get the word out about his own offerings.
"I wanted to promote the lounge as a place to relax," Kralovic said. "We sell everything tobacco. We've always had a testing lounge. ... The tasting room allows us to smoke."
Santorine recently was denied a break on the health board's rule prohibiting hookah bars. Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble said, however, the only way Santorine could have a hookah smoking area is if he opened a retail tobacco shop, such as Kralovic's.
Since Kralovic started promoting his business with hookah offerings two weeks ago, he said more people have been coming into the store. About half of those customers have been younger adults seeking hookahs and shisha, and the other half, older adults seeking handrolled cigars.
The health department also noticed the warehouse's new advertising and sent a sanitarian to inspect the business. Gamble said Kralovic is not breaking any board of health rules.
Currently, the only true hookah bar in the state of West Virginia is the X-hale Hookah Lounge, 218 Walnut St., Morgantown.
Morgantown, along with its home county of Monongalia, enacted its smoking ban after the X-Hale had already opened in 2009. The Monongalia County Board of Health decided since the business was established and would never be allowed to hold a food permit, that it would be OK to grandfather it into the regulation. Under the current smoking ban, no other hookah bar will be allowed to open in Monongalia County.