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Stogie Commentary: The Most Unkindest Cut

26 Jan 2010

Recently, I got a perfect lesson in what drives cigar smokers to the internet. I tagged along with my wife to a nearby town. She met up with some friends and I went to a cigar shop adjacent to a restaurant to smoke and watch the playoffs.

nocigarI’m not sure what the first hint of trouble was, but I think it was seeing the TV tuned to an All in the Family rerun. I asked the young clerk if he’d mind putting the game on, and he immediately asked me what game and if I knew the channel. He flipped the remote while I explored the humidor.

Now I can’t be sure, but the smell I noticed was more like cedar chest than Spanish cedar. Ignoring that, I eyed the wares. Quite a few sported hand-written notes pointing out price reductions of 25 to 50 cents, thereby putting them about 10% over MSRP.

I chose a robusto, since I was to meet the group for dinner, and went to pay for it. The clerk didn’t know the cost. Fortunately, I remembered. (I was struck by this later when a couple of customers came in to buy a half-dozen or so sticks each and the clerk asked them to go back and check the prices.)

I picked up the cutter and it was so dull it didn’t really cut the head of my cigar. It just sort of tore a piece off. Lousy cutters are one of my pet peeves at cigar shops.

I know I could avoid this by bringing my own cutter, but I rarely remember. And anyway, why should I have to? Do you bring silverware to a restaurant in case they forgot to wash it? Or a needle to the doctor’s office so they won’t have to re-use one to draw blood? It’s hard to have confidence that a shop owner who has so little regard for tools has much more for his cigar inventory.

The shop did have two leather chairs and the TV worked once the clerk found the game. Since it was the only shop in town, I returned after dinner for the second game. No customers were there either time. After an hour or so, the clerk announced that he was closing up—this after saying earlier that the shop stayed open until 10 p.m. on Saturdays. I made a grumpy remark and walked outside, standing under an awning to avoid the rain while I tried to figure out how I was going to kill an hour or so.

That’s when the most positive event of the evening occurred. A woman from the restaurant came out and asked if I was coming back in. I said the kid had closed the shop, at which point she reopened it and let me back in.

I consider myself a big fan of cigar shops. I’m also lucky to have quite a few first-rate shops close to my home. But if all I had to frequent was a shop like that one, I think I’d be ordering my sticks online. At least my cutter’s sharp and my back deck doesn’t close early.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

10 Responses to “Stogie Commentary: The Most Unkindest Cut”

  1. Dave in Ashburn Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 3:40 am #

    I didn't realize how good our B&Ms are in Northern Virginia until I went to Seattle (Redmond, actually) on business last December. There I paid $9 for Fuente Chateau, which in Reston or Ashburn would cost me $5. I also picked up a Tatuaje and a Padron, and all three were ill cared for and suffered split wrappers shortly after lighting.

    I'm torn about the internet. I want to do everything I can to keep the B&Ms around, but when box prices start nearing double the internet price I start to get a little bit frustrated.

  2. dmjones Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 8:26 am #

    I've seen both good and bad, but I am lucky enough to have a great B&M in the relatively close vicinity…actually about 45 minutes away. Burns in Chattanooga, TN, is a high-class establishment with a knowledgeable staff and fair prices. They've got a nice big screen and comfortable chairs in the smoke shop, with even more in the members-only room. It's connected to a billiards club so you can play darts, shoot pool, eat at the full-service restaurant or have a drink at the bar.

    It's the only game in town (2 locations of the same company, actually) but at least it's a good one. Since moving to the area a year ago, I've only made about 3 or 4 online purchases because this shop is good enough that I want to support them whenever possible. On the other hand, some online vendors just have deals too good to pass up.

  3. mighty Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    The cigar store where I work on a part time basis is just great. The owne does TWO major things: cigars and wine. He also carries some pipes and bulk blends. His humidor is stocked with a ton of variety of cigars, even the great boutique makers. He has super tiny easy peel off stickers that stick to the cigar band that has a barcode on it so I can scan in the price. For stogies that dont have a band we wrap a tiny piece of tissue paper to put the sticker on, one by one.

    The few people that work there are all very knowledgeable about the cigars. Ideally we know most of the wrappers, body, and finishes of a particular cigar as much as possible for our tastes.

    I have been to other shops where I get the same I could care less attitude that many of you have posted here. It's very disappointing because I want people to enjoy their cigars, and learn to notice the different flavors, depths, body, etc.

  4. Robert Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    Sorry to hear your bad experience. I have to say that I almost never have a good experience at local B&Ms, which is what pushed me online. The ones near me all have owners that seem to not care at all about cigars. Asking for a recommendation or the low-down on a particular stick is useless. I just get answers like “it’s good” or “it’s medium bodied.” One shop owner recommended me a Macanudo when I said that I was looking for a spicy cigar.

    And they don’t maintain their stores or humidors properly, and don’t take care of their customers. One shop owner tried to convince me the mineral deposits on his cigars (due to using un-distilled water in his humidifier) was “plume.” Another shop’s cigars are so moldy there is no way of spinning it, so when I pointed it out, he just chuckled and said “yeah, we’re having some issues with the humidity.” Another shop’s owners rant every time I’m in – about some cigar maker (just as I ask about that line!), some other customer, or some gov’t something or other – full-on f-bomb ranting.

    As for having to go back into the humidor to check the price, that’s the norm here, except at one store that puts a price sticker right on the band of the cigar (hope you’re not giving it as a gift!) and another that makes you write down all the prices as you shop.

    Basically, I’ve found B&Ms to be overpriced and offering service that would put any other type of small business out of business. Can you imagine going into a restaurant that had broken refrigerators, ranted about the companies that make the food they were serving you, ranted about other customers, and then made you wait on your own table and write up your own bill? I like the idea of the B&M in theory. I like supporting local small businesses. It’s just that around here, these particular businesses haven’t earned the business.

  5. CigarCraig Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    I'm fortunate to have pretty good shops in my area, as well as being within and hour and half drive of CI, Holts and Famous. One thing that does irritate me is the shops that ask me to note the prices. I understand there are a LOT of different cigars and prices, but what other store have you ever been in that asks customers to do this? I know that cigar smokers are probably better customers than most, but I don't like to work so hard when buying a couple cigars 🙂

  6. George E Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    CigarCraig — You know, this is such a common complaint among smokers, you'd think shops that still ask their customers to do this would get the message. Yes, some do have a lot of cigars. But Macy's has a lot of shirts and Best Buy has a lot of CDs and Barnes & Noble has a lot of books. I can't recall any of them asking me to price their merchandise.

  7. John Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    George, you are lucky to be in Florida. What is your opinion on St. Pete pipe&cigar? I have seen owner Ed Nazare do reviews online and it looks like he has a nice shop. Corona cigars in Orlando area is one of the finest shops I have ever seen anywhere. Here in upstate N.Y. if you buy a cigar from a B&M there is a 53% state excise tax and then an 8% sales tax. If you had’nt guessed, 95% of my cigar purchases are done online-I can buy a box of cigars from an internet retailer and only pay maybe 5 bucks for shipping and no tax.

  8. George E Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    John – I’m sorry to say that I have yet to visit St. Pete Pipe & Cigar. I don’t get down there all that often and, unfortunately, the last few times I’ve had the opportunity to go it was Sunday and the shop isn’t open then. But I too have seen their videos and it looks like a very nice place. I do intend to get there!
    Mighty – Sounds like you work in a great shop, like several of those near me. It’s always a pleasure to spend time in a fine cigar shop.

  9. George E Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    Dmjones – Good to hear your endorsement of Burns. I’ve never been there, but I have heard good things about that shop from several smokers.

  10. TimD Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    Great article, ironic that this was posted as I was just pondering something similar to write up.

    I’m lucky to have a large variety of B&M’s around me that are excellent and take care of everything quite well, I’ve also been lucky when I travel, too.

    People pay a premium to shop at a B&M due to the lounge and personal service, I know that and don’t mind it. But if I don’t get great service and the accessories all mediocre then it kills what I’m paying the premium for.