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100 Years of Retailing

Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95

The year is 1895. Grover Cleveland is in his labor-troubled second term as president. Cuba battles Spain for autonomy. The Lumière brothers make the first movie. Katie Ruth gives birth to the legendary slugger, Babe. And Demuth's Tobacco Shop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, celebrates its 125th birthday.

Now 225 years old, Demuth's can attest to the power of perseverance. But nine additional establishments claim rich histories that date back a century or more. These cigar stores--Iwan Ries & Co. (Chicago), David P. Ehrlich Co. (Boston), L.J. Peretti Company, Inc. (Boston), Straus Tobacconist (Cincinnati), Leavitt & Peirce (Cambridge, Massachusetts), W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist (Washington, D.C.), Fader's (Baltimore), Rich's Cigar Store Inc. (Portland, Oregon) and Rubovits Cigars (Chicago)--have withstood the test of time, surviving both natural and man-made disasters. From citywide fires to the first and second world wars, from the Great Depression to the Cuban embargo to the current public intolerance for smokers, these stores are a testament to the American Dream that hard work, long hours and faith, with a little luck sprinkled in, will pay off in the long run.

Few of the stores that existed in the early years of U.S. history have survived the ravages of time. Many closed during the tumultuous times of the Depression and Second World War. Others didn't survive the aftershocks of the Cuban embargo. Many of those that closed couldn't withstand the industry's ups and mostly downs of the past 30 years. But these 10 establishments are unique. They successfully faced the challenges that lay in their paths and are poised to take on the future.

* * *

Demuth's Tobacco Shop, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Established 1770

"Because of our age, people from all over the world know about us and visit us." -Wally Vail, 78, cigar buyer

The oldest continuously operating tobacco store in the United States is Demuth's Tobacco Shop. Six years before our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, Christopher Demuth opened his smoke shop. Since 1770, Demuth's has provided tobacco products as well as humidors, cutters and cigar cases for the Lancaster community. Gen. Edward Hand, one of George Washington's right-hand men, purchased snuff here. Jasper Yeates, a leading American patriot, was a regular customer. And President James Buchanan was spotted at the shop buying Demuth Golden Lion cigars, according to Carol Morgan, director of the Demuth Foundation, the not-for-profit organization that now owns the shop, factory and former homes of the Demuth family.

"The Demuths were very successful businessmen," Morgan claims. "The tobacco shop served as the hub of many social contacts by businessmen in the community. They exchanged news, kept weather reports and stopped in there for their snuff, tobacco and cigars."

The shop has passed through five generations of Demuths, all in a direct line of descent. Christopher Demuth's son, Jacob, took over and later bequeathed it to his heirs, who did the same for their own offspring, until the last male Demuth, Christopher, who owned the store from 1937 until his death in 1976, left it to his wife Dorothea. It was Dorothea who, caring for shop and the family name as much as she did, sold it to The Demuth Foundation in 1986 instead of selling to an independent buyer. She wanted the shop to last. And last it has.

Demuth's carries a wide array of handmade and machine-made cigars for its customers. The store serves customers looking to spend anywhere from 50 cents to $10 for a cigar. And with the popularity of handmade premium cigars still on the rise, the store is withstanding the efforts of the antismoking brigade.


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