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An Interview with Oscar Boruchin

Owner of Licenciados and 8-9-8 Collection cigars.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Wayne Gretzky, Mar/Apr 97

(continued from page 22)

CA: Do you see any local legislation coming along to restrict cigar smoking in south Florida?

Boruchin: They have tried. But Florida is a big producer of cigars, and we've been able to stop those efforts before. However, I won't be surprised if it will happen in the future. Not too long ago [the state] tried to pass a tax on cigars and it was defeated. They just passed a tax on tobacco, but they never touch the cigars. In Tampa and Miami, a lot of people still make a living in the industry.

CA: You once told me a story about the brand name Cohiba and the trademark. Could you tell it again?

Boruchin: In the '70s, a friend of mine, Bernardo Benes, was retained by the Carter Administration. Bernardo had been a friend of Fidel in Havana University and at the beginning of the Revolution, he was a subsecretary in the Treasury Department. He left Cuba because of ideological differences. But he is not a conservative Cuban. He worked closely with Claude Pepper when he was a congressman, and he was on retainer with the State Department during the Carter Administration. He used to go and see Castro often, always on different missions that didn't really come out in the press. One time he came back from Cuba and he gave me a little pack with four or five lanceros. And he told me these are cigars that Fidel smokes that he gives to people that visit with him. The cigar is not a commercial brand. At that time, they didn't ever dream that they were going to make it commercial. I was working for General Cigar at that time and, loyal employee that I was, I sent the bands and a couple of cigars to Edgar Cullman Jr. And I told the Cullmans the story that I just told you. And General went ahead and registered the brand. And sure enough, nobody had an intent to register it then because the brand wasn't even commercially available. So, General Cigar owns the brand in the United States.

CA: You've been in the cigar trade for 36 years. Do you ever look in the mirror and pinch yourself?

Boruchin: Yes. But, I can't tell you the number of times that I considered leaving the business. The only problem with cigars is that it gets into your skin. The cigar business, you just couldn't leave it. You get to love the business so much and the people in the business. I bet you that there's not another industry that has the friendships that I have. I say that because lately, like any industry that grows so much, it creates jealousies and creates competition. But I remember at one time that we all sat down and talked about our mutual business--it was like a big family. It still is. And, I'm very glad I didn't leave, because the last four or five years have been very rewarding.

CA: I think I know what you are talking about. Many of the new people have come into the business to exploit it, as opposed to because they love cigars or they have a family history in the business. They would probably leave it if it stopped growing. Many are only in it for the money. They are not in it for the emotional bond that many of the people that have been in it their whole lives are in it for.

Boruchin: It's a funny thing. We have a community. It's like an association of the people who've been in this business a long time, and we look out for each other. I don't mind telling you openly, when it comes to distributing my cigars, which are so short in supply, I never forget the people that helped me whenthis craziness wasn't around. My supplies go to those 100 or 150 stores that weathered the storm. You will never find one of the old guys without cigars as long as I am around. I will take care of the people that have been around a long time. This is my philosophy.

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