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Recollections

These friends of Cigar Aficionado were there at the beginning in 1992, and they are still working with cigars today.
From the Print Edition:
Cigar Aficionado's 20th Anniversary, September/October 2012

(continued from page 6)

Stephen Willett

Stephen Willett remembers a far different cigar business before 1992, with most of the sales coming from smokes made on machines, packed in cardboard boxes and shrink-wrapped in cellophane. In 1973, when as a graduate student he began working at  L.J. Peretti, the 142-year-old Boston tobacco shop that he now owns, little emphasis was put on the premium brands. “There were eight or 10 large, established brands,” says Willett. “People were buying King Edwards, El Productos and Macanudos. Royal Jamaica was here. Punch. Montecruz—it was a very limited selection of handmade cigars.” Back then, you could buy a handmade Punch for under $1. Today the shop only stocks premium cigars, along with pipes and pipe tobacco.
Willett points to two cigar brands over the past 20 years as the most unforgettable: Partagás 150 and Fuente Fuente OpusX. “I bought $38,000 of [Partagás 150], wholesale,” says Willett. “Mr. Peretti [then the shop’s owner] thought I was out of my mind.” He sold his entire stock in six weeks. “That was a lot of money in those days. And the buzz for Opus still goes on. Those cigar brands pushed the business ahead.” —D.S.

Philip Wynne

“I think we age tobacco better than we age ourselves,” says Philip Wynne with a smile. The 55-year-old entered the cigar business in 1991, at a time when pipes were more popular than cigars, cigar factories around the world worked at a leisurely pace, reflecting the slow demand, and prices were much lower than they are today. “Six dollars was the most expensive cigar at the time, so I said to myself, let’s see if I can make a cigar and sell it for $2 or $3,” he says, puffiing a Felipe Gregorio Refusion, one of his newest creations. The factory in Honduras that originally made his cigars received one container of tobacco a year, enough to keep it rolling for 12 months, something impossible to imagine in today’s world of constant shipments. Wynne survived the ups and downs of the cigar boom and the slow years that followed. “The consumer is getting a much better cigar now than they ever got before. I’ve learned so much from the cigar business—I have no regrets.” —D.S.


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