100 Years of Retailing
Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95
(continued from page 6)
Washington, D.C., is well known for its political brouhahas and national treasures. A notable landmark missing from the tourist guides is W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist, a tobacco shop more than a century old, which has seen its fair share of capital intrigue.
The shop was founded in 1887, a couple of blocks away from its current site at 14th and G Streets, by W. Curtis Draper, who had worked in the tobacco business. Draper remained with the shop until 1946, when he sold the store. Draper's sons were not interested in the business, so he sold it to William E. Martin, an accountant by profession, but a man who had helped around the tobacco shop since he was a teenager.
The current co-owner, John "Duke" Cox, worked under Martin during the 1970s and '80s. When Martin passed away in 1990, he left the shop to his wife, Frances, and Cox, who are currently partners.
Cox states that, although Draper founded the business and maintained a loyal clientele, it was Martin who really broadened the business and made it more lucrative. "Mr. Draper always maintained a full-line tobacco shop," Cox says. "He had cigars as well as pipe tobacco and pipes. However, Mr. Martin really expanded the cigar business when he took over. Mr. Draper had a nice community business. Mr. Martin really blew it out with the mail order. [He] made it well known, not only nationally but internationally."
The shop is extremely prosperous, selling humidors, cutters, cases and many cigar brands. According to Cox, W. Curtis Draper was one of two establishments that helped introduce Macanudo in 1970 to cigar lovers in the States, at a time when other countries were finally beginning to fill the void left by the loss of Cuban cigars.
The store has outlasted the terms of 20 U.S. presidents, Republican and Democrat alike. And both Republicans and Democrats have been shoppers. Who else can claim customers such as Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford?
"We know that the current president smokes cigars, even though they keep it low-key," says Cox. "There have been cigars bought for him here, but by whom I don't know. That's what happens now. They can't move around as well as they used to."
Regardless of laws passed by federal and state politicians to curb smoking, business is booming at W. Curtis Draper. Cox believes this success is because the store has outpaced the trends, with the help of strong leaders at the helm. "We just try to stay ahead of the game, to do the right things and make the right moves," he says. "There will be changes we'll have to make as a cigar store....I am going to do whatever is necessary."
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