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Commentary: Welcome to the Shop

22 Aug 2011

For some smokers, the best thing to see in a cigar shop is a humidor the size of Wyoming with more facings than an LAPD mug book. Others relish a lounge that combines the ambiance of the Gilded Age with modern day big-screen TVs.

My favorite sight? It’s one I‘m sorry to say I spot only occasionally: a group of young smokers enjoying themselves. It makes me optimistic. More often, though, I find myself in a room with people much closer to my age, which is anything but young. (Young is, of course, a relative term. When I use it, I’m thinking of those up to about 35 years old.)

That worries me. Because even though numerous cigar manufacturers and brand owners appear to be working overtime to attract younger smokers, the same doesn’t seem to be true for the majority of cigar shops.

I can’t help but wonder whether there’ll be smokers to keep them going after the Grim Reaper cuts down the current crop of patrons.

As I pondered this state of affairs, I decided to consult with a few experts, including Heather Haddad, whose Fumée Cigars is just outside Austin, Texas. She is not only a young (29) entrepreneur, she’s also among the most thoughtful shop owners I know.

She said Fumée attracts a fair number of younger smokers, though they’re frequently drawn by hookah. “Occasionally they will deviate from the hookah and get a flavored cigar (this is age range 18-21),” she wrote me in an email. “In the 22-35 age range, we have a minority, but they tend to be one-off type customers that come in for an event.”

Appealing to a wide spectrum in almost any venture is tough; although no one talks about the “generation gap” these days, it still exists.

“A perfect example is the music at my shop,” Heather noted. “The older guys want something softer with the volume down low, and the younger guys want some more upbeat music at a louder volume. Someone won’t get their way. In some cases these groups can coexist fine, but other times not.”

Some of Heather’s observations can be taken to heart by cigar fans in my demographic.

“An older regular taking a 20-year-old new smoker under their wing can go a long way to making that young person a lifelong cigar smoker,” she explained. “Educating new smokers of any age is also a great tactic to really draw them into the mystique of cigars. Keeping your store a positive one, without negativity or cliques, is key to new smokers feeling welcome.

“Shop owners should feel free to experiment (new events, new cigars, louder music) until they find something that clicks with the old guard and the new guard. It is worthwhile to spend some time on this because younger ‘spend $5/week‘ smokers are your bread-and-butter regulars ten years from now.”

Sounds like good advice, and I hope it gains traction. Some of it might not appeal to me (that loud music, for instance). But then again, I’m beyond the target.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

10 Responses to “Commentary: Welcome to the Shop”

  1. dmjones1009 Monday, August 22, 2011 at 7:26 am #

    I'm happy to say that my local shop, Burns Tobacconist in Chattanooga, TN, has a pretty good mix of young and old smokers. There are a core group of older men who have probably been coming in for years, playing pool weekly in leagues, and buying mostly the same cigars. And there are a seemingly growing number of "kids"…smokers in their early to mid-20s, many of whom started straight-away with Tatuaje and Illusione and have trouble appreciating anything else. I guess I'm stuck right in the middle (I guess that means I've hit middle-aged, but I won't be buying a Corvette)…I have friends among the older group and the younger group. The future of cigar smokers is alive and well at my home shop…I just hope the government regulators and taxers leave well enough alone.

  2. George E. Monday, August 22, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    That's great to hear. I hope other readers will let us know about their shops as well.

  3. Chris Monday, August 22, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    Part of this equation is carrying the kinds of cigars younger smokers want. I have a regular shop where I live with two locations that both carry awesome smokes — Tatuaje, Drew Estate's Liga Privada lines, etc.

    By contrast, I stopped in a different, well-known shop recently that is an institution in my city. The selection was incredibly old-school. They had maybe three cigars total from the entire Pepin/Pete Johnson realm. All the smokers in the shop were ancient, and the staff acted disdainful to anyone under 40. (I am 30, a professional, and have been smoking cigars for ten years. I'm not a young punk.) Needless to say, I won't be back to that shop again.

  4. Stewart Levine Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 12:13 am #

    Heather does run a good operation. I am 66 years old and live in Houston, Tx. and my son is 34 and lives in Austin. We went to Fumee to check it out and we both had a pleasant time. The prices were reasonable and the atmosphere was super. We had a great afternoon and we surely will return.

  5. Tyler Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    I am trying out cigars and I have recently also bagan to smoke a simple corncob pipe. I find both to be very relaxing. Thanks Stogie Guys for being extremely informative and enjoyable to read. Many great tips.

  6. zohaib Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Im 22 years old and have been smoking cigars since I was 18. Iv recently moved to DC and Im trying to keep my favorite hobby alive but there doesnt seem to be a single decent place to be around where I can buy and smoke my cigar in peace. Any advice on where to go from you guys?

  7. George E. Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    I always enjoyed Draper's on 14th Street. Georgetown Tobacco on M is nice shop. I lived across the line in Maryland, so I frequently visited Bethesda Tobacco in its old location and also went regularly to the Signature and Davidus chains. Shelly's Back Room on F Street in D.C. is also very popular. And there are quite a few shops on the Virginia side, though I'm far less familiar with them.
    Hope this helps.

  8. EdMac Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 6:59 am #

    Recently we were on a family vacation and we stopped in San Juan. A gentleman was rolling cigars in the square and my 19 year old son asked if I would buy some. I did and later that night he and his brother went on deck and smoked them. It is my new favorite picture of them. Newer smokers need someone to introduce them to smoking and help them avoid some of the "problems" I encountered. If I had given up after smoking a cigar that didn't fit my taste I would not be enjoying cigars today. So the next time a new smoker asks for advice take the time to answer their questions without prejudice. Direct them to this site, a book, etc.

  9. tim Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    It's curious to me that some younger smokers seem to be of the opinion that Tatuaje and Drew Estate created the standard for good cigars. This old cigar smoker thinks you're paying too much to enjoy a good cigar.