17 Aug 2015
Tampa’s cigar past lost a prominent feature recently when one of its old-time factories, long vacant, burned to the ground.
But don’t despair. If you’re interested in the history of cigars, Tampa still has lots for you to see. Most of it is in Ybor City, which was once the center of the industry that gave Tampa its nickname, Cigar City.
First, though, you’ll need to venture off 7th Avenue, nucleus of Ybor’s entertainment these days and home to several small cigar rolling shops and other retailers.
Next, you’ll need to hone your expectations. You’re not going to be seeing large cigar-making operations like those now operating in Central America. In fact, there’s only one true functioning cigar factory left in Tampa: J.C. Newman’s, where workers and machines produce mass market smokes.
The factory, often called El Reloj for its iconic clock tower, has gained quite a bit of attention as Newman has made keeping it open central to its fight against potential U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation that could shut it.
Most of the other Tampa area factories lost their fights to stay open decades earlier as cigar smoking declined. Some have come back in renovated form for other uses; many sit empty.
Perhaps the best way to check out Tampa’s cigar factory history is to follow in the footsteps of local cigar expert Tom Ufer, who compiled an incredible resource on the factories’ histories as well as a fascinating and detailed, easy-to-follow tour. You’ll find all that and more at Tom’s site.
Tom did this work in 2009 and 2010, so a few things have changed. One of the most notable changes has taken place at what’s known as the Charles the Great factory. It’s now been renovated and serves as offices for the Arturo Fuente organization. Tampa Sweethearts moved out three years ago to its own beautiful casita just off 7th Avenue.
Wallace Reyes has also written extensively on the cigar history of Tampa in “Once Upon a Time in Tampa … Rise and Fall of the Cigar Industry” and this year’s “Cigar City Architecture and Legacy” has a substantial section devoted to cigar factories.
So whenever you visit Tampa, be prepared to spend a little time getting to know more about Ybor City and its fascinating past. You’ll be amazed at what’s just right around the corner.
photo credit: Flickr