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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 3)

Telford's has 176 humidified lockers. The Telfords first added a lounge in 1996 when the store was at a different location. This is the ninth move for the store. "And my last," says Telford.

Smoking bans might be old hat for California, but they are new in neighboring Arizona, passed in the November 2006 elections. "I opened my lounge three years ago," says Vartan Seferian, owner of Ambassador Fine Cigars in Scottsdale. "I was watching California. I said, 'This is bound to come here eventually.' I'm glad I did it. I was ready."

Seferian's high-end store has a gorgeous, well-appointed walk-in humidor stocked with all types of premium cigars. While a small sitting area up front is available to any customer, a huge room that Seferian created in the rear serves as his members smoking club. It has several tables (some of which are employed for that most popular of cigar lounge pursuits: poker and other card games), a plasma television, a small kitchen, and coffee and soda.

"It's in the back of the store, which keeps them away from the public eye," says Seferian, speaking like an old-time concierge with an innate ability to know what his customers require in terms of service. "We have all types of people, from the blue-collar to the millionaire. It's an area where they can come anytime and hang out. It's a boys' club. There's a lot of networking."

Jay Fox, who owns six Up In Smoke shops in and around Dallas, Texas, has lounges in most of his stores. "Eventually they're all going to be that way," he says.

As in many cigar lounge situations, the people who gather in Fox's stores have become closely knit. "It's like a club. They'll get together and cook. The networking that goes on is amazing. They have each other's cell phone numbers and they call each other," he says with a chuckle. "People need a place to smoke."

The appeal of the smoking lounge is greatest in areas where smoking is banned, but even in cigar-friendly Charlotte, North Carolina, the lounges are busy. "[Our flagship store is] full every day. Sometimes there's so many people smoking it looks like a Cheech and Chong movie," says Craig Cass, owner of four Tinderbox stores in the Charlotte area, two of which have smoking lounges. If a smoking ban should pass, says Cass, traffic in the lounge "will explode."

In Cass's flagship store, in South Park, the lounge takes up approximately 500 feet of the 2,200-square-foot store, and he believes lounges are the way of the future. "I think in the next generation of cigar stores, the lounge will be even bigger," he says. "It's the camaraderie: we're the modern version of the country day store. People smoke cigars socially."

Virtually every cigar shop owner with a lounge speaks of the loyalty of his lounge customers and the bond he forges with them from their having spent so much time in the store. "They become my best salesmen," says David Garafolo, owner of Two Guys Smoke Shop in Salem, New Hampshire, near the border of Massachusetts. Garafolo has an 8,500-square-foot store with two smoking areas, one with about a dozen seats and a plasma television, plus a members-lounge upstairs complete with domino tables, a chessboard, video games, vending machines, three big-screen televisions, two pool tables and a pair of large oval poker tables of the type you might see on a cable television show. Such an indoor smoking haven is a large draw during certain months in New England. "The winter is crazy up here," says Garafolo.

Smoking lounges of this size are more easily outfitted in the suburbs. Aside from the grand smoking space at Nat Sherman and the spacious smoke lounge at De La Concha, most of Manhattan's cigar lounges are tiny. Most cigar shops on the Vegas Strip and in casinos are also too small for smoking areas. (Casa Fuente is a huge exception—see the sidebar at left.)


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