Smoking Debate: Should A Hookah Lounge Open In Downtown Merced?

Not on Main Street - that's what the city of Merced told the owner of a hookah lounge, who wanted to open up shop in downtown.

City planners initially rejected granting the Chandeliers Lounge the permits it needed to open.

But supporters were able to change the city's mind Monday night, and the city council voted 6-1, in favor of allowing the smoking bar, to become part of the downtown scene.

The issue was not without controversy.

"One of the main concerns is the whole issue of tobacco. There was concerns about underage people sneaking in, and there were concerns about students being encouraged to smoke tobacco," said Mike Conway, the public information officer for the City of Merced.

More than a dozen people spoke out at a city council meeting, supporting the establishment.

"I am looking forward to it opening because it's something new in Merced and that's exciting," said Maria Rodriguez, a UC Merced student.

"I'm glad somebody is trying to diversify in types of businesses we have here, and the U.C. is part of this community now and I think they need to start catering to students," said Noel Gomez, a UC Merced student.

Even some parents say, they wouldn't mind.

"I think if there's proper ventilation, I think that's fine. I think diversity is good for downtown," said Ashley Linden, a Merced resident.

"It's not something new to America, it's something new to Merced. And we think we'll bring something good to downtown Merced," said Ghaleb Javer, manager of the Chandeleirs Lounge.

The owner already operates a hookah lounge in Fresno.

The Chandeliers Lounge and adjoining dance club would only be open at night to those 18 and older, and no alcohol will be served.

But that's no consolation for those who'd rather keep main street, smoke free.

"Who wants to smell flavored tobacco when you're sitting outside dining?" said Rick McMillion, who spoke against the opening at Monday's city council meeting.

The lounge is now scheduled to open for business on Main Street, by the end of this year.