In an age when people are buying everything from groceries to cars online, Watch City Cigar says it competes with tobacco e-tailers by letting customers of its Rte. 9 smoke cigarettes shop freely touch and sniff a selection of cigars.

But while unlocked cabinets are good for business, the Board of Health says they violate local and state self-service regulations.

The health board has called Watch City in for a hearing Monday to answer to that and seven other violations.

Inspectors who visited the 497 Worcester Road shop in May also found Watch City was selling non-tobacco products, in violation of its 2000 variance. The store was also failing to contain smoking cigarettes to a back room, inspectors said.

The store's operators are fuming, and they plan to take a lawyer with them to the hearing.

"It's a bunch of BS," manager Danny Patel said yesterday. "Locking case(s) - it's just going to put me out of business, basically. I can understand no smoking cigarettes in a retail area."

The Board of Health voted 2-1 in 2000 to grant the tobacconist a variance from town regulations that prohibit smoking cigarettes in public places, issuing four specific conditions.

The vote stipulated that smoking cigarettes be confined to a separate, enclosed area off the sales floor, that the store have proper ventilation for the smoking cigarettes, that an approved sign on the front door let visitors know that smoking cigarettes is allowed inside the facility, and that only tobacco products be sold there.

An inspector stumbled across a problem when the board ran a tobacco sting, Board of Health Director Ethan Mascoop said. Watch City failed that check by selling cheap cigarettes to a 17-year-old.

Mascoop and inspector Felix Zemel returned May 20 for a full inspection.

They found Watch City was selling products such as kitchen knives, clothing, walking canes and chess sets, according to a hearing notice.

Also, among other problems, the ventilation system wasn't certified by the Board of Health, and there was no sign on the door announcing that smoking cigarettes is allowed inside.

"My information is, they have exceeded the bounds of their permit at this point," said the board's chairman, Mike Hugo. "We need to address that and find out whether or not there's some punitive measure that's due."

The board could also decide to work something out with Watch City or amend the variance, Hugo said.

Watch City plans to propose getting around the locked cabinet requirement by becoming an over-18-only shop.

"It's a cigar store," said tobacconist Ernest Quintiliani, who has worked there for 11 years. "Our feelings are that we need to educate the board about the fact that we are in a different situation. We're not a convenience store."

Because of costs and staffing, he projected the store would be forced out of business within a year if it had to lock up its tobacco.

"People come into our store because they can feel the product, they can touch the product, they can smell the product," Quintiliani said. "It's the only thing that separates us from an e-tail store."

The Board of Health meets at 7 p.m. at Keefe Tech.

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