The Corner Cigar Factory
A steadfast group of small-output factories brings cigar making back to New York
From the Print Edition:
Bill Murray, Nov/Dec 2004
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Business isn't booming. Frank's father died in 1997 at the height of cigar sales, when New Yorkers were free to light up in any bar and several restaurants. Frank now speaks wistfully of the days of the cigar boom.
"In 1997, '98—those years were very good," he says. "The laws against smoking in bars and restaurants have hurt most of the cigar industry." Almanzar operates a side business in which he sends rollers to weddings and other events.
Business has been better at Reserva Dominicana, a one-roller shop at 37A Seventh Avenue, between 12th and 13th streets. Owner Israel Capellan started the business there three years ago by importing cigars that his family made in the Dominican Republic. Sales increased when he added a cigar roller, who came in on Fridays.
"I find that the American market loves cigars right off the table," says Capellan. "On Fridays [the roller] makes 200 cigars, and all 200 will be gone by the end of the day." The roller now comes in three times a week. Capellan also has a larger operation in the Bronx, with five rollers, to make cigars for the Manhattan shop.
P.B. Cuban Cigars, at 137 West 22nd Street between Avenue of the Americas and Seventh Avenue, is trying to profit from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's smoking ban in bars by providing a comfortable legal smoking lounge in the front of the cigar factory/shop. The walls are freshly painted orange. "It was yellow-white, from the smoke," says a man behind the counter. (These operations often stress the word "Cuban" to lure customers, a nod to the seed variety used in the tobacco filling that fills the cigars, as in Dominican Cuban-seed filler tobacco.)
All the cigars for sale at P.B. are rolled by four cigarmakers, using Dominican filler and binder, and a choice of Connecticut shade, Dominican or Sumatra wrappers. The company does a few box-pressed smokes and some with the trendy double wrappers resembling barber poles. The cigars sell for between $2 and $6.
A bit west and north of P.B., at 506 Ninth Avenue between 38th and 29th streets, is Taino Cigars, one of the local chinchale success stories. Owner Julio Suris opened Taino in the heart of Hell's Kitchen in 2000. He had learned how to roll cigars in Cuba, so in the true American spirit he set up a small table in his storefront, rolled a bunch of cigars and called them Tainos.
Business has been good. "We opened, five months ago, a store downtown," Suris says, talking about his new shop at 93-99 Nassau Street, at the corner of Fulton Street. The Hell's Kitchen store no longer has a rolling table—he's moved that downtown—and he couldn't keep up with demand, so most of his cigars are now made by his brother in Miami, who has 10 rollers. "We didn't have the space for 10 rollers here," says Suris. He uses a variety of tobaccos for his Tainos, working with Nicaraguan and Dominican fillers and Sumatra-seed wrappers grown in Ecuador.
Thanks to a few intrepid entrepreneurs, a New Yorker with a pair of comfortable shoes and a lighter can tour the town's miniature cigar factories and get a taste for the old, old days of the cigar business.
The little factories can't compete with national brands for tobacco. They don't have the money or the space to accumulate vast quantities of tobacco and let them sit and age for years. The cigars don't offer the same complexity as the big manufacturers' smokes, and the taste you get one day might be very different from the next.
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