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Cigar Lounges: A Smoker's Last Refuge

Cigar shops are among the few places that a cigar smoker can call home
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Richard Branson, Sept/Oct 2007

(continued from page 1)

"In those days, everyone from the floor worker to the executive smoked cigars. If you paid 25 cents, you were a big spender," says Ron Shapiro, 66, who got his start working for his family's M&R Smoke Shop in the fur center of Manhattan's Garment District in the 1950s and 1960s. "Especially in New York City where we had our stores, you didn't have space for a smoking lounge—unless you were Dunhill or Nat Sherman. Today, if you don't have that extra space to set up a lounge, it's going to hurt the bottom line."

Glen Greenberg, the owner of The Owl Shop, relaxes in his spacious smoking lounge.
Today, Shapiro owns Cigar Factory Outlet in South Norwalk, Connecticut, with his son, Brian. Inside the huge store, which sells cigars by the box, is a roped-off area with about a dozen leather chairs, where members gather and smoke. They've dubbed it Club Perfecto. The members have become friends and know each other by first name. Three have grown so passionate about the cigar business that they have since taken jobs with cigar companies.

Holt's Cigar Co., a Philadelphia shop owned by the Levin family, owners of the Ashton brand, has had a smoking lounge since 1995. "Back then, I think the concept of a cigar lounge was a novelty—not every smoke shop had one," says Sathya Levin, vice president of Ashton Cigars. "We always had people hanging out in the lounge, but ever since Philadelphia passed the smoking ban, it's been packed."

The lounge has a few sofas and chairs, an espresso machine and no television. "Cigar lovers hang out, talk and smoke, and shoot the breeze," says Levin, who travels to many cigar shops across the United States as part of representing the cigar brand. "I think [having a lounge] is becoming more of a standard nowadays. In certain parts of the country, it's almost a requirement."

In Kansas City, Missouri, The Outlaw Cigar Co. has taken the cigar lounge concept to an extreme: once a month owner Kendall Culbertson extends his lounge, which typically holds about 30 people, by adding a 30- by 30-foot tent (it's heated in the winter, air-conditioned in the summer) and partners with various companies to attract men to his shop.

And attract he does: his parties draw hundreds of customers. "At our last event I had no way of knowing how many people were at this party, but we had 1,200 people buy something at the register," he says. "My entire focus for the last three years has been to create cigar smokers. Instead of trying to sell wholesale or sell on the Internet, I had to get nonsmokers to come to my parties." His method is hardly revolutionary, but can't be argued: give away free food and beer.

"You should come to our party on Saturday," he enthuses as he lists the attractions that will be on display: Pepin Garcia rolling cigars, a pro analyzing golf swings, Colibri lighters, Benchmade knives, girls from Hooters as well as his Outlaw calendar girls, and an Apache helicopter from a nearby Army base.

The parties have made Outlaw a must-stop for many of the bigger names in the cigar business, including Jorge Padrón, Litto Gomez and Christian Eiroa, each of whom has visited the store for an event.

Culbertson views the lounge as a man's place to escape and relax. "I see it every day in the lounge," he says. "A guys sits down, he's all wound up—this is truly his place to unwind."

One of the largest, best-stocked cigar shops in America is Corona Cigar Co. in Orlando Florida, located about 15 minutes from Walt Disney World. (It's not quite so close that you can leave the wife and kids in the line at Space Mountain, slip out for a quick smoke and get back before they figure out your evil plan, but you'll be tempted.)

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