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Puffing Along

F.D. Grave & Son of New Haven, Connecticut, is behind the Muniemaker cigar brand.
Mark Vaughan
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

(continued from page 4)

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In the early 1900s, F. D. Grave sold about half of its annual production of 5 million cigars in Connecticut and the other half via mail order throughout the United States. By midcentury, that market had shifted, and nearly all of the production was sold in the company's home state. "When Dick and I first came on board we were selling all our cigars out of the back of cars," recalls Fred Grave. "We had 16 salesmen, and every day they'd fill up the trunks of their cars and head out to service their accounts. Imagine selling 7 million cigars out of the back of a car."

But as times change, observes Fred Grave, so do markets. By the mid-1980s, the company's survival depended upon expanding its reach. "We found a niche for ourselves in the upscale cigar stores that began popping up in malls all across the country," says Grave. "They had the expensive brands, and they had the cheap brands, but there was really nothing in between."

Today the company's major markets include California, Ohio, Washington D.C. and the state of Washington as well as Connecticut. The last salesman retired in 1990, and now, apart from the few direct orders they receive in their New Haven headquarters, all F. D. Grave & Son cigars are sold through independent distributors. But personal contact remains an important element of the company's marketing strategy. "Dorothy, Dick and I still make courtesy calls on all of our accounts," says Fred Grave. "We try to visit every store that handles our cigars at least once every two years. And you know, they're always happy to see us."

Neither Fred nor Dick have any plans to retire. "Dad worked here until the day he died," says Dick Grave. Adds his brother, "This is sort of our home away from home, and as long as our health holds out, we'll probably hang in here. Anyway, the numbers don't mean much; there's no law that says you have to quit working when you turn 70."

What about the company's future? "Who knows? Dorothy is committed, and little Charlie seems to be literally growing up in the business," says Fred Grave. "There will always be cigar smokers, and there will always be a market niche for a good, moderately priced cigar."

"Anyway," he adds with a laugh, "they say nothing dies slower than a family cigar business. It just seems to puff along."


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