Brick and mortar tobacconists, the good and the great


We all know that brick and mortar tobacconists work hard and life is not easy for most of them.  High tobacco taxes, constant pressure from the anti-tobacco lobby and regulatory administrivia are only some of headaches they have to endure.  Then they can get down to actually taking care of business, serving customers who want to be informed and educated on the many different pieces of art that are released every year.

When I had just arrived in the US, I used to choose the tobacconist where I would go mainly based on the cigars I wanted to buy, after long searches on the internet. You can read a bit more on my very frustrating trial and error process here. For my first box of Arturo Fuente Opus X, I went to a local authorized store. I was in the shop for a while, looking around while waiting for someone to assist me. Finally a grey haired guy came to help me, and when I asked for a box of Opus X he replied, “We don’t keep the empty boxes, we ship ’em back”.  I had to pause for a minute to realize that he truly thought I was asking for an empty cigar box.  I suppose he doesn’t see too many women shopping for fine cigars.  I must have had a strange look on my face, as he quickly added “Ah yes, this last box contains 23”. I bought it and still keep that empty box in my office as a symbol of unexpected US sexism. I still go to that shop once in a while when they organize events with manufacturers or when they have new arrivals of Opus X, but frankly my view has been soured by that experience.

Totally different has been my experience at Ohlone Cigar Lounge in Fremont, CA. David and I went to one of their monthly herfs and were soon attracted by the sense of community and friendship that you could feel, thicker than the smoke thanks to the excellent air filters in the lounge. I soon wished to be more actively involved with that community and got to lead the following herf, with very engaged and participative group of  customers. Those are the customers who have a word to the owners’ purchasing decisions.  John, JR, Joel , Jeff and team do all they can to make everyone feel comfortable, have a very open-minded attitude towards all the feedback their customers have on any cigar. And when we spoke with them about the concept of Cigar Sense, they shared some terrific ideas, including how Cigar Sense and a B&M like them can collaborate.

This is the lounge of the future, not missing any opportunity to be innovative. Going to that lounge makes me feel that that sense of family, that the industry very often invokes, here is a true state of mind and of heart.

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