During the pandemic there haven’t been many places where people could gather together, sit on soft leather chairs and couches, and smoke cigars and maybe watch a little football. But that’s what has been happening for the past few months in the midst of a pandemic at the Cigar Oasis cigar lounge, 6557 W. North Ave., Oak Park.
But the gatherings are supposed to be coming to an end – although they very well may not – after an Oak Park police officer on Dec. 29 delivered a cease-and-desist order to the business.
The notice orders Cigar Oasis to not allow people to smoke in its store and comes after Oak Park police made four visits to Cigar Oasis in December, on Dec. 15, Dec.16, Dec. 23 and Dec. 27. During those visits customers were apparently seen smoking cigars while hanging out in the lounge.
Occupancy limits imposed by an executive order issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in November were also apparently violated. The notice calls for Cigar Oasis to not allow more than 15 people to be inside the Cigar Oasis lounge at any one time.
“You are ordered to immediately suspend indoor on-premises consumption at your business while the Order is in effect and you are ordered to limit occupancy at the business to nor more than 25% of the permitted capacity, which equals no more than fifteen (15) persons in the business at any one time for sales activity only,” the order states.
A copy of the order was given to the Wednesday Journal by the Village of Oak Park.
The manager of Cigar Oasis refused to sign the order. On the line where the manager was to have signed it, the police officer wrote in “Refused”. A spokesman for the Village of Oak Park said that the failure of Cigar Oasis to sign the order does not affect its validity.
“According to the Village Law Department, not signing the notice doesn’t mean anything in terms of the effect of the notice. The business was served with the cease-and-desist notice by a Police officer whose signature is on the document,” said Village of Oak Park spokesperson David Powers in an email.
When the Wednesday Journal contacted Cigar Oasis on Dec. 30, store manager Tony Chacha declined to acknowledge receipt of the order and directed all questions to owner Viktor Jakovjevic.
Chacha declined to say whether Cigar Oasis would comply with the order. Efforts to reach Jakovjevic were not immediately successful.
On Dec. 20, a Wednesday Journal reporter visited Cigar Oasis and saw 10 to 20 people crowded in the front room sitting close together watching football and enjoying their cigars. No one, except for a hostess, was wearing a face mask.
“I can tell them to social distance, probably the people that were next to each other, I’m sure they were all together to begin with,” said Chacha, when asked about the crowd. “We’re not the only place that’s open in the United States. We have social distancing. It’s a little hard to wear a mask smoking a cigar.”
Cigar Oasis’s business license is for tobacco sales, but it is a lounge. Cigar Oasis’s Facebook page invites people to visit during Bears games as it did prior to the Nov. 29 Bears-Packers Sunday night game.
The business model is based on people hanging out smoking their cigars.
“It’s a lounge; it’s a cigar lounge,” Chacha said.
Chacha said that the people want to get out and do things.
“You can’t ask everybody to live in a bubble, can you,” Chacha said when asked if he thought it was safe for customers to congregate in his store during a pandemic. “We cannot live in a bubble. Life does go on. Everybody’s still has to go to work.”
Despite not having a food license Cigar Oasis serves cappuccino and coffee, sells pop from a refrigerator and allows customers to store liquor in lockers they can rent, Chacha said.
Someone from the Urban Smoke Café, a barbecue business, cooks food in the outdoor patio area on Sundays.
A cease-and-desist order is essentially a warning. Failure to obey the order can result in a misdemeanor which may result in a sentence of imprisonment up to one year and/or a fine of not less than $75 not to exceed $2,500 and possible arrest for such a violation. It can also result in the suspension or revocation of a business license, closure and civil liability.
Some neighbors complained to the village months ago about Cigar Oasis but say nothing was done. “I felt very shut down,” said a neighbor who asked not to be identified because Cigar Oasis has allegedly been aggressive in the past trying to quiet criticism of the store’s practices.
Some worry that Cigar Oasis is a super spreader location.
“No one is ever masked in that place,” the neighbor said.
“We love Oak Park,” Chacha said on Monday apparently before getting word that a cease-and-desist order was coming.