If you read this blog and visit this website on a regular basis, I bet you know the terms IPCPR, CRA and CAA. But how about TAA?
TAA stands for the Tobacconists' Association of America, a group of high-end cigar shops in the United States. The group is meant as a supplement, rather than a replacement, to the main organization of U.S. cigar shops—the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers (IPCPR). Every TAA member that I know is also a member of the IPCPR. But where the latter group's annual get-together is all about a high-energy, very hectic trade show spread over a group of days, the annual TAA meeting is a far more laid-back affair.
Every year the group gathers along with a number of cigarmakers for a series of meetings and social events. Last week, I flew down to La Romana, Dominican Republic, to attend the 45th annual show with Gordon Mott. There were meetings and discussions, presentations and a small trade show, but most of the time was spent socializing and really getting to know the other members of the organization. An undeniable draw for the conference was the setting: Casa de Campo, in La Romana, Dominican Republic.
This wondrously large, all-inclusive resort has always been a beautiful place. The resort boasts one of the finest (and toughest, I'll attest) golf courses in the Caribbean, Teeth of the Dog, and is only a few minutes away from Tabacalera de Garcia Ltd., one of the world's largest handmade cigar factories, where Altadis USA makes Romeo y Julietas, H. Upmanns and Montecristo cigars, among many others. Because of the cigar connection, I've had the pleasure of going there many times. But this was my first trip to Casa de Campo since the resort's $40 million renovation, and boy did it show. It was great before, but it's phenomenal now. Read Gordon's story from the February 2011 Cigar Aficionado to get a full idea of the resort.
The TAA was formed 45 years ago, and there was a time several years ago when some doubted that it would continue. Membership had dwindled, cigarmakers were not anxious to throw support behind it, and the annual gathering was an extremely sleepy affair.
That has changed. The TAA has new management, many new members, and quite a bit of newfound energy. Phil Windham, the owner of Burns Tobacconist in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is now president of the organization.
"We have record attendance," Windham said from the podium during his opening remarks to the crowd. "It's never been greater." The show was attended by 61 retail shops (62 of them registered, but one had to cancel due to a family situation) and 33 associate attendees, most of them cigarmakers. The cigar companies, accessory makers and other associate attendees consisted of: Arturo Fuente, Alec Bradley, Altadis USA, Arango, Ashton, CLE Cigars, Colibri Group, Crowned Heads, Davidoff, Drew Estate, EPC Cigar Co., F&K Cigar, F.G.T. Enterprises, General Cigar, Gurkha Cigars, Integral Logistics, J.C. Newman Cigar Co., Kristoff Cigars, La Flor Dominicana, Miami Cigar & Co., My Father Cigars, Nat Sherman, Oliva Cigar Co., Orleans Group, Padrón, Phillips & King, Santa Fe, Rocky Patel, S.A.G. Imports, Tabacalera Perdomo, Tatuaje, Villiger and Xikar.
The TAA had several speakers. Glynn Loope of the Cigar Rights of America spoke about a CRA initiative to build membership where cigar shops that refer 24 consumers to the CRA will get free dues, and also about states still being the incubators for tobacco control. Bill Spann of the IPCPR spoke about how membership in the IPCPR had been on a "six-year decline" until 2012, when it saw a rise over 2011. On the light side, John Salley, the former NBA star known as the Spider, had the crowd laughing, and his speech that included a talk about his fear of arachnids and a trip to Honduras, where the spiders grow very large indeed.
Three cigar companies: La Flor Dominicana, Tatuaje and Davidoff, made exclusive cigars just for TAA members. (You can read all about them in this story.)
The TAA group also had early looks at other cigars, such as a pair of double perfectos (one from Alec Bradley, one from Kristoff) and a new La Aurora. Show exclusives such as these have been eagerly sought out by retailers.
There was a time when we, and others, questioned whether the TAA was something that we needed to be a part of. After spending time with the reinvigorated, larger group, the answer is clear-it's an organization that plays a valid role in the cigar industry, and is a show worth attending.