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Date Visited: 12/20/08
Street Address: 22 E. Chicago Ave., Suite 107
Phone Number: 630-428-2888
Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Saturday 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Sunday 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Location: Above Average
Located in the heart of downtown Naperville, Illinois, Bull and Bear sits in a prime retail location. While the majority of the surrounding area is caught up in the chaos that is south-suburban Chicago, Bull and Bear is an oasis of sorts for Chicagoland smokers. Downtown Naperville is truly a ‘blast from the past’ as many of the buildings in the area and on the historic Riverwalk have been refurbished to preserve their early 20th century look and feel. The only thing keeping Bull and Bear’s rating from being ‘Excellent’ in this category is the fact that out of all of the historic buildings in the area, they chose to settle in a modern strip mall next to a Chipotle restaurant.
The staff working at Bull and Bear is (to my knowledge) a father/son business. Having previously owned a cigar shop in southern Illinois, the owner uprooted his business and settled in Naperville. Also a fine woodworker, the owner designed and built the nine walk-in humidors at the shop. Every time I’ve come into the store, he was pleasant to talk to and shared stories of ‘the good ol’ days’ when he was my age. He holds a burning passion for cigars and cigar lore and has been an incredibly helpful resource along the way. It was from him that I first learnt about hookahs and its various flavours. The besthookahsguide.com is definitely a great platform to learn and choose hookahs suitably, but this good old man has a plethora of knowledge about hookahs that one cannot ignore. I cannot speak as highly for his son, however. He is in control of the business aspect of the store and is always an abrasive figure to speak with. I assume he feels that my buddy and I are meddling young men (at 19 and 20 respectively) who are looking to steal and take advantage of him. I can understand some of his concerns while we are inspecting cigars pre-purchase as any owner would be concered, but he goes overboard as he hovers around the walk-in we stand in and glares at us until we are so uncomfortable we just leave the store. It’s shocking that there is such a personality difference between those two, and because of the son, I cannot rank the staff any higher than average. If he were the least bit courteous towards us, the ranking would be above average and possibly exceptional.
Stock: Below Average
For this section, I’m going to separate into categories of brands, pricing, and condition. Starting with the brands, Bull and Bear is average to above average. They carry the expected cigars while also holding some boutiques for the aficionado to gawk at. A semi-complete listing of their brands can be found at their website. I don’t remember who blends their house blend, but the blend is a decent medium bodied smoke. With regards to pricing, Bull and Bear is average. Illinois has relatively high tobacco taxes, and Naperville’s sales tax is also relatively high. Other than that, the prices are as to be expected and are comparable with many shops. Moving on to the condition of cigars, I’ll be as polite as possible here. This category receives a poor rating, and I would rank it lower if possible. Seven of the nine walk-ins had serious mold issues upon my last visit. The humidification devices are common large home humidifiers placed directly underneath a large section of stock. The humidity in the rooms is probably above 75% (an educated guess as no hygrometer could be found), and in the seven walk-ins, mold covered at least 10% and as much as 50% of the stock. On my last visit, there were a good number of cigars I wanted to try but did not purchase as they were engulfed in mold. To me, this is completely unacceptable as an owner and am shocked that such a serious outbreak has been allowed to grow. In addition to cigars, Bull and Bear also sells humidors and accessories, pipes and pipe tobacco, and as of recently, hookah tobaccos. In all, I’m severely disappointed due to the condition of the cigars, and if that could be avoided, they have a solid stock all around.
Lounge: Above Average
The lounge at Bull and Bear has 9 leather loungers for customers to enjoy. There is a decent selection of cigar related magazines, and ventilation above the area keeps the surrounding atmosphere relatively smoke-free. My only complaint is that the arrangement of seats makes for a distant feel when lounging. Outside of that, the lounge area is incredibly comfortable and inviting for the casual smoker.
Overall Opinion: Above Average
A great location, knowledgeable yet occasionally off-putting staff, and comfortable lounge define Bull and Bear. Given that the mold issue can be resolved by turning down the humidifiers in the walk-ins, I’ve overlooked that aspect in the overall rating of the shop. For anyone who’s visiting the Chicagoland, Bull and Bear is a must-visit.