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One of the great features of the cigar industry is how small it is. Yes, there are two very large publicly owned companies (Altadis and Swedish Match) that are big players, but the majority of the rest of the companies are family or individually owned. Some of the latter aren’t that small any more, but it is an industry where everyone who does business in it knows just about everybody else. Even the big companies are run by people who have spent their entire lives working with cigars, so it’s not like they are just anonymous suits; they have friendships that go back decades.

Now, the staff of Cigar Aficionado has the same kind of relationships. At RTDA, where myself and other editors of Cigar Aficionado were in attendance in August, it was impossible to walk down an aisle of booths without stopping to say hello to someone. The industry’s size also makes things possible like the annual Ashton dinners, which are held in a fine restaurant usually near the convention site.

Over the course of three nights, if you are an Ashton retailer, or a friend of the company, you get invited to partake in a wonderful evening of camaraderie, and in an expression of thanks to the retailers who support the brand all year long. There are usually more than  200 people at each of the three nights.

Robbie Levin is the owner of the Ashton brand, and of Holt’s in Philadelphia. He’s spent his entire life in the cigar business. And while it’s a huge expense to run these dinners every year (he won’t let on how much), he says it is truly is a way to say thanks to the retailers, who are the heart and soul of the cigar business. But he also showcases his salespeople; Chip Goldeen and Manny Ferrero are the evening’s MCs (Manny’s toasts are the stuff of legend), and there are always a lot of laughs. Manny also takes great pride in choosing the menus, and selecting the wines.

So the next time to you buy any cigar from your local retailer, ask him about the brand owner, or the sales person. He’ll know who they are. And, almost certainly, he will have spent time speaking with those people at a cocktail hour, or around a dinner table.

Thomas McHugh Baltimore August 30, 2007 10:22am ET
I met Manny a few weeks back at an Ashton event at one of best local shops, Cross Street Tobacco.I have to agree that his toasts are great.As an aside, the shop was packed to the gills, from humidor, the lounge area, the store and spilled out onto the side walk.No fear of anyone protesting with all of the police officers on hand enjoying a cigar, too.Baltimore and cigars... Perfect!
CHIP GOLDEEN August 31, 2007 2:04pm ET
Dear Gordon,Thanks for the kind words about our company, and we are happy you had a good time at the Ashton Dinner. You're right, we are vey lucky to have such great customers and wonderful friends in the cigar industry. Hope to see you soon.Best Regrds,Chip

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