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Making It in a Man's World

Eight Women Have Defied the Odds to Run Their Own Tobacco shops
Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 2)

The chain now numbers 18 stores, occupying from 650 square feet on up, with the largest being the Orlando Smoke & Snuff. Gorman closed the flagship St. Paul store six years ago to devote more time to the Florida stores. "It is completely different now, especially in the past few years. [Before] every retailer was nice to each other. When my husband died, the retailers would come and bring me merchandise, and the distributors were begging for business and everybody was really sweet," she says. "The reps would come often and help us, and I remember one real old cigar man from General Cigar, he came and taught me how to display cigars."

In addition to the tobacco products, Smoke & Snuff carries collectibles, such as beer steins and lighters, "whatever the customers want." She attributes her success to always attending to customers' wants and needs, and as a result her customers have been loyal. "I think to our credit, we never neglected the pipes through the years; the tobacco was always kept in good supply so we were a complete smokeshop," she says. "Our theory is: every sale counts."

With the help of her son, Gary, an attorney, who deals with the store leasing, and his wife, Elaine, who is the main gift buyer, Gorman is counting on the business to continue doing well. Gorman hopes Gary's son, Daniel, will join the business. Through the years he has helped at all the stores, and he is an avid cigar aficionado. Because Daniel is still a student, at the University of Wisconsin, they will have to wait and see, Gorman says.

Gorman no longer works the floor in her shops, but that doesn't mean that she has lost affection for the business or her customers. "I love the business. I think it's great," she says. "The customers are fantastic. Our customers are getting younger and younger and we have about every age range. [And] cigars are still the biggest thing."

Joan Cvar of Tinderbox in Murray, Utah, is a retailer who has already endured the tough times. Cvar, whose husband is a pipe smoker and whose father and grandfather smoked pipes and cigars, has always been around tobacco and has a wide knowledge of the subject. That hasn't kept her, however, from having the occasional bizarre run-in with an obstreperous customer.

Cvar grew up in Southern California and moved to Utah during her junior year in college. She taught elementary school for two years in Hawaii until she and her husband, Fred, decided to open a tobacco shop. In 1972, the Cvars launched the Tinderbox store in Murray, Utah.

For the first two years, the couple worked long days to make their business work. Joan Cvar ran the 600-square-foot store during the day, while Fred kept his computer job at Kennecott Copper Corp. and ran the store at night. After a few tough, yet productive, years they opened a second store in nearby Salt Lake City and hired two employees. Today, Fred runs the Salt Lake City store while Joan has taken over the flagship store. A friendly rivalry has ensued.

Although most people were accepting of Joan Cvar, mostly because as the owner of the store she was deemed knowledgeable, she had to deal with the occasional sexism.

"I don't think that there is any woman in the business who hasn't felt it," she says. "Many years ago, I walked up to a woman who was in the humidor and said, 'Hello, how are you doing? How can I help you?' and she said she needed to find out about cigars and she needed to talk to a man. I said, 'Well, I can help you, I am knowledgeable about cigars' and she said, 'No, you wouldn't know what I need to know. I need to talk to a man.' Now I was in a weird mood and so I said, 'Oh, a sexist,' which was not a good thing to say. One of my employees started to walk over to help and I turned around to walk away and she kicked me."

Later, the customer went to the Salt Lake City store and complained to Fred Cvar. Nothing more ever came of it. Although Joan Cvar regrets making the comment, she feels that "sometimes you just have to be like a real person instead of a robot."

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Comments   1 comment(s)

suman chaniyil — capecoral , florida 33909, usa,  —  June 16, 2012 7:26pm ET

like ur article

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