100 Years of Retailing
Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95
(continued from page 5)
According to James Clark, the present owner of Straus Tobacconist, two brothers with the surname of Straus in 1880 opened a tobacco and convenience store in Cincinnati. Nearby was another mostly wholesale cigar shop bearing the name of Straus, which was owned by Henry Straus, who was no relation to the brothers.
The history of this store and wholesale operation is not very clear because proper records have not been kept over the years. In fact, 40 years worth seems to be lost, Clark says. The records between Henry Straus' death in the '30s and the Straus merger in 1973 are missing. This was a period that saw a number of ownership changes, Clark adds.
What is clear is that the two stores merged into one in the early 1970s. A wholesale/retail conglomerate called the Straus-Keilson Company (again, no relation) bought the smoke shops and operated them under one umbrella. Then in 1983, Core-Mark Distributors from Vancouver, British Columbia, bought the wholesale division (of the Straus merger) while STK Industries bought the retail side; Clark acquired the shops in 1991, just when the fledgling cigar market was making a comeback.
"In 1991, I noticed that we were getting a lot of requests from fellas for different cigars," he says. "We finished our new wall display pretty much at the same time as the initial Cigar Aficionado hit the stands. The timing was absolutely perfect."
Now, Clark has a challenging time keeping up with the demand for premium, hand-rolled cigars. With more than 100 premium brands to choose from, Straus Tobacconist's many new and old customers purchase anything they can get their hands on.
"Because of our location in the central business district of downtown Cincinnati, we have always had a clientele that had disposable income," Clark explains. "[Now] they are buying vintage quality, and they are not starting at the bottom....A couple of years ago, if you had told me that we would be selling $8 cigars as frequently as we do, I would have probably told you that you were crazy."
Clark doesn't see the demand for cigars declining soon. "I think we really need to offer these guys a good value for their money," Clark says. "As long as they continue to feel as though they are not being taken advantage of or lied to, you have a long-term customer."
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W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist, Washington, D.C.
"Our business is not for the tired or the retired." -William E. Martin, former owner
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