An Interview with Oscar Boruchin

Owner of Licenciados and 8-9-8 Collection cigars.

(continued from page 6)

CA: Why is it that whenever I go there, he gives me white gym socks?

Boruchin: You know Mike started out on Orchard Street in New York and he had a pushcart, and he was always there selling socks. He always says that he blesses the memory of [then-New York City Mayor Fiorello] La Guardia, because La Guardia kicked him out of Orchard Street with the pushcart and he had to move to Florida. And he started the cigar business. So, the love of his life has always been socks. So as not to forget that, he keeps a little stock of socks in his desk and everybody that he likes that comes to the store walks out with a pair of socks.

CA: Your store is one of the most beautiful stores in America. Do you have any plans to expand that one store or to add other stores? Either in Florida or elsewhere?

Boruchin: We have 6,500 square feet of retail store. The retail area is adequate. And even if we pile up more stuff in the store, it is adequate. Where we run out of space is in the warehouse, the wholesale and other department operations. We are looking into expanding that area. We are looking within the neighborhood where we are located right now. I have no plans to expand the store. We walk a thin line between being manufacturer, distributor and retailer. If I open up a lot of my cigar stores around the country, I would be competing with my friends. We are not planning to enlarge the retail operation.

CA: What do today's smokers buy? What are they smoking? What are the cigars that are in big demand in terms of flavor, strength, size, color, origin? What is the cigar that is in greatest demand?

Boruchin: The trend today is toward a strong cigar. Size favorites are robustos, a 4 1/2 or 5 [inch] x 50 ring gauge or a 5 1/2 x 50 ring gauge. On many occasions, you can't smoke a large cigar unless you find a friendly place or in your house. Most of the places you want a shorter smoke because you want to finish and you don't want to throw it away. When a new smoker walks in, the preference is for a mild cigar. But he graduates to a medium to strong cigar very quickly. I see them come in the first day and buy cigars. But then you see them a month later and they already are looking at a little stronger cigar, such as a Partagas, a Fuente, a Bauza. At the beginning, they all feel they want to start with a mild cigar. But it is surprising how they move pretty quickly to a strong smoke.

CA: How much do they want to spend on a cigar?

Boruchin: Price is no object. When you see that some of the retailers come to my place and pay full price and then go out to sell it at a tremendous profit, it means people are going in those places and buying cigars for $10, $9, $8 apiece. I think availability is the main issue today. If you have the product, you have no problem charging whatever you want.

CA: In south Florida, are there today many places where you can go and enjoy a nice meal and have a cigar afterwards? Or are there still a lot of problems in terms of having a place to eat and then smoke?

Boruchin: You still have a lot of problems. There're not too many places that you can go openly and light up a cigar where you're sitting. They allow you to smoke in the bar, in many cases. But, a lot of clubs are opening up, even though I don't count clubs. I like restaurants, where you can sit down and enjoy a cigar. One of them is The Forge, especially since they opened up the Cuba Club next door. But they keep humidors with cigars in both places. And you can light up a cigar any place in The Forge. It might be another half dozen restaurants like that. But that's all.

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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