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An Interview with Stanford Newman

Chairman, J.C. Newman Cigar Co., Tampa, Florida, the owners of Cuesta-Rey and Diamond Crown cigars.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

When it comes to lengthy perspectives on the world of cigars, it is hard to beat Stanford Newman. Joining his father's business at the age of 18 in 1934, Newman recalls the days when manufacturers agonized over a price increase from five cents to six cents. He worked part-time through his college days and began a full-time career in the cigar business in 1938, resuming his career in 1946 after serving in the Second World War. Today, having bought out his relatives 11 years ago, Newman remains the proud patriarch of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. (formerly M&N Cigar Manufacturing), which owns hand-rolled brands such as Diamond Crown, Cuesta-Rey and La Unica, all of which are made by the Arturo Fuente family in the Dominican Republic. His sons, Eric and Robert Newman, oversee the daily operations of the company, and a 15-year-old grandson, Drew, hopes to join the company full-time after he graduates from college.

In a comprehensive interview with Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, Newman reminisces about the cigar industry, and offers his impressions of the impact of today's cigar boom.

Cigar Aficionado: Tell us about the cigar industry in America at the turn of the century.
Newman: My father started in business in 1895. He was a journeyman and cigarmaker. He learned to make cigars by hand. His mother paid $3 a month for three years for an apprenticeship, and he finally became a journeyman. He worked for a factory for six months and it went out of business.

CA: Where was this?
Newman: In Cleveland, Ohio. My father came from Austria-Hungary in 1888 with his family and he had five brothers. Each brother learned a trade. My father decided to become a cigarmaker, and he learned to make cigars by hand. After he lost his job, his mother got him an order for cigars from a grocer where she used to shop. Now, at that time, there were few brands; most cigars were generics. The grocer gave my father an order for 500 cigars and he started from there making his own cigars. He finally got an order for 5,000 cigars from a wholesale grocer who also distributed cigars. Suddenly, he had to make a lot more cigars, so he got two or three of his buddies together and they started in.

CA: At that time, how big or how important was the cigar industry in the United States?
Newman: Remember that all cigars were made by hand, and there were over 40,000 cigars factories in 1895 across the country. In fact, those 40,000 had federal licences. It makes sense. It took very little capital to get into the cigar business. A person could go into manufacturing cigars with 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 dollars. In all the major cities in the United States, there were cigar dealers, wholesalers that sold tobacco by the pound.

CA: Let me go back a second. Why did the federal government license cigar manufacturers? You didn't need a federal license to make dresses or shoes, or to sell groceries. Why cigars?
Newman: The federal government wanted to collect taxes on cigars. At that time, you had to go to the post office and buy stamps to put them on cigars boxes, whether they were boxes of 10, 25 or 50. You put them on the boxes and you sold the boxes. But you couldn't sell the box of cigars at all unless it had a stamp on it.

CA: How big was the cigar industry in terms of the number of cigars produced and sold at the turn of the century?
Newman: The cigar market was probably perhaps two or three billion. At the height of the 1920s, I think there were nine to 10 billion.

CA: How were the cigars sold? If there were that many factories, were there even more cigar stores?
Newman: No, there weren't very many. There was usually one or two in each city that were exclusive cigar shops. Most of the cigars were sold through grocery stores. There were not any real cigar distributors at that time. All the wholesale grocers that supplied grocery stores handled tobacco products. There weren't any cigar jobbers probably until maybe in the '20s.

CA: Later on, in the '40s or '50s, there was a huge boom in cigar stores.
Newman: Yes. When I grew up in the '20s and the '30s, there were two chains. The biggest was United Cigar Stores. They had 800 stores. They went into every major city. And in every major city in the United States, they'd tried to get a downtown corner. There was another one called Schulte Cigar Stores.

CA: When was the retail trade at its peak?
Newman: Remember that the outlets were a lot different than today's cigar stores. They were on the corners in the best traffic patterns of the community. Most of them established themselves as cut-rate stores. They gave out coupons, especially the United Cigar Stores, which attracted a lot of people. Eventually, in the late '40s, the rents just got too high for most of them because it was hard to make money. The basis of their business was cut-rate cigarettes, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco; and cigars were less and less dominant.

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Comments   1 comment(s)

Clifford Brown — independence, ky, usa,  —  May 14, 2013 3:47pm ET

That is a truly amazing article!

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