Business partners Daniel Goodwin and Cheryl Greenwald have more than 30 years of retail tobacco experience between them. Eight years ago they branched out on their own, opening Cigar Towne off Eldridge Parkway in Houston, less than two miles from the Barker Reservoir.
Today, the quaint cigar shop sits ravaged by more than 12 inches of floodwater. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over Texas in late August, dropping up to four feet of rain, Goodwin returned to find dozens of cigar boxes soaking on the floor of the humidor, while plush leather chairs and wooden tables lay sodden in what had been a lively smoking lounge.
"There's a foot of water still in the shop," says Goodwin. "They're releasing water from the reservoirs, which keeps the water in the shop from receding." The Barker Reservoir has undergone a series of controlled releases to reduce the risk of overflow since Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Houston. For many in the surrounding areas, the controlled releases have delayed the recession of flood water from their homes and businesses.
"It's going to be about a week before the water is out and the real cleanup begins," says Goodwin. "Then we have to apply for a rebuilding permit, which will take a while because that's what everyone else is doing. So we could be out of business for three months."
Goodwin says he was able to save about 75 percent of his inventory, thanks to the support he received from two customers and a local sales rep, who helped him salvage his cigars when he was finally able to make it down to his shop last Saturday. "I never thought I'd be floating out cigars," he says. "We were putting boxes on a kayak, an air mattress and crates, trying to get them to a climate-controlled environment."
Despite their best efforts, Cigar Towne lost the bottom two rows of its walk-in humidor, which were already damaged by the time Goodwin was able to reach the store.
The owners of Cigar Towne say the support from the cigar community has been unbelievable. "I've been on the phone with manufacturers, many who know hurricanes from living in Florida and are understanding about back orders and everything else," says Goodwin. "Customers have been calling, telling me to let them know as soon as we're back open so they can come down and support us."
While the response from the community has kept the owners in good spirits, Goodwin admits it hasn't been easy. "It's hard standing knee-deep in something you built from the ground up," he says. But despite the long road ahead, Goodwin is adamant that Cigar Towne will remain in Houston, in the same location off Eldridge Parkway. "No doubt," he assures. "We will reopen."
One of the more notable relief efforts from the cigar industry has come from Tabacalera USA, the premium cigar division of global tobacco giant Imperial Brands PLC. Together with ITG Brands, the Imperial-owned companies donated $50,000 to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Harvey-related assistance in Houston and other affected areas.
Erik Espinosa of Espinosa Premium Cigars is lending a hand by donating 100 percent of the proceeds from a special five-pack of cigars to victims of Hurricane Harvey.
"Living in Miami, I've seen first hand the devastation that a hurricane can cause," Espinosa told Cigar Aficionado. "Through this industry I've made lots of friends in Houston and I wanted to help out."
Espinosa is calling the cigar One Love, which comes in red, white and blue packaging with an image of Texas and a heart covering the Houston area. The Nicaraguan cigars are sold exclusively through Stogies World Class Cigars in Houston and have raised $5,000 for hurricane relief.
In a video posted to Facebook, Espinosa said he also wants to do something that will help out local cigar shops, mentioning Cigar Towne specifically. But even Houston tobacconists that avoided flood damage could be facing a tough road ahead as the local economy recovers from the storm.
"We didn't get any water, but business will be down for a while," said Brad Tirey, the owner of McCoy's Fine Cigars in downtown Houston.
Tirey was forced to shut down his shop for close to a week while the freeways were closed and access to the downtown area was cut off. The Harris County Criminal Justice Center, along with other county facilities in the downtown area, will remain inoperable for an extended period of time, which Tirey expects will affect sales. "A lot of my business comes from lawyers and judges who work in the courthouses."
Others were more fortunate. Kenneth Nguyen, manager of the Casa de Montecristo by Serious Cigars in West Loop, says the store was closed for four days but didn't sustain any damage. "We were perfectly fine," he said. "Luckily the store is on an elevation."
Bill Scoggins, owner of Briar Shoppe near Rice University, was closed for three days. "A bit of water came through, but the rug absorbed most of it," he said.
Some cigar smokers even took to their local brick-and-mortars for refuge during the storm.
"The rain was pretty bad Sunday, but we had loyal customers who ran out of sticks, so I came down and opened from 3 to 8 p.m.," says Jorge Perez, manager of Tobacco Habana. "When I opened the rain picked up again, but we were all hauled in there smoking so it was OK."
Following the storm customers were eager to return, sharing stories and enjoying the comforts of friendly camaraderie. "Now we're back," says Perez. "People are in high spirits; business has been good."
Read more: Hurricane Irma Moves Through Cigar Country