Over the past year, online cigar sales have been booming. As a result, some local cigar shops are experiencing a downturn in sales. In addition to tough times at the cash register, the popularity of discount online retailers have kept many would-be customers from ever visiting a local shop in the first place.
Due to lack of experience, many people find themselves intimidated by the thought of heading out to their local cigar shop. The objective of this article is give you a basic rundown of what you can expect to find at your local shop. It will also cover a few practices which may or may not be taboo in your local establishment.
Before getting into what you should and shouldn’t do inside a cigar shop, lets first talk about what you can expect to find at a cigar shop. After all, you have probably stumbled onto this article because you haven’t been to one before and you are looking for a little information on what you can expect.
What will I find at my local cigar shop
As you may have already guessed, a cigar shop is a store which sells cigars. Many of these stores may be branded as a Tobacconist and may also carry specialty tobacco products such as imported cigarettes and pipe tobacco. In addition to having the product itself, these shops will typically have accessories to go along with any purchase you may make.
Depending on your city or state laws, there may be a smoking ban in affect. Some bans are so restrictive that you may not be able to smoke in the establishment. Fortunately, this is not the case in every state across the country. As a result, chances are good that you will find some type of lounge within the shop. Lounges vary from simple seating areas within the retail space to members only spaces with leather furniture and big screen televisions.
Depending on the caliber of the shop, it may also have a variety of amenities available to you as a customer. These amenities may include things like free usage of the store wifi connection, access to sports packages on television, free soft drinks and or free coffee.
Your first visit
Before you burst out the door with your travel coffee mug and laptop, you should either call the cigar shop to see what is available to customers, or plan on making a quick trip just to scope out the shop. In the case that you want to check out the shop before calling it your home away from home, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to look around in the humidor. I find that I spend an excessive amount of time just browsing when I visit a new shop. You don’t want to feel rushed during your first visit, after all, cigars are supposed to be relaxing.
During your first visit, you should not feel pressured to buy anything. In the event that the cigars appear to be in poor condition, or the proprietor doesn’t seem knowledgeable about the product, it is okay to leave without making a purchase. In the event that the stock looks to be in good shape and the staff is polite, I would suggest picking up a single even if you are just stopping in to look around.
In the event that you have some free time, look around for a seat or make conversation with the staff and light up your cigar (just be sure there isn’t a smoking ban in effect before you do this). If you are invited to use the lounge, take advantage of it. Often times you will find at least one other person in attendance to converse with. Most times you will be greeted with a hello and drawn right into the conversation like you were one of the guys. There are, however, times when you will be reminded of high school and everyone will clam up due to the presence of a stranger. Fortunately, in the my experience, the latter is unlikely among a crowd of cigar smokers.
Once you are in the lounge and sharing in the conversation, the hard part is over. As people become more comfortable in a local shop, they can sometimes take for granted some of the things that they are given. Just because the shop gives you a place to smoke, it doesn’t mean its always okay to bring in cigars from home to enjoy while in the lounge.
Some shops don’t allow you to bring your own, it is important that you respect this rule and follow it. While it may seem strange, if you are smoking something that is not normally carried and it catches the eye of another customer, you are effectively advertising that this person shop elsewhere to find this cigar you seem to be enjoying so much. Some shops do not mind you bringing your own cigars, as long as you make a purchase before using the lounge and any amenities that go along with it.
I think that by now you should have a pretty good grasp on what you will find going on at a cigar shop and what to keep in mind when visiting for the first time. In the effort of making this article a little more diverse, I have included a few general questions that you may be asking yourself, as well as my thoughts on the subject. The questions were supplied by our friends on Twitter.
From Mike (KnightRid): Is there a cover charge?
In some circumstances you will stumble onto a cigar shop that charges a cutting fee to use their lounge. Often times this fee is in place for the individuals that bring their own cigars and do not make a purchase from the shop itself. You may also see a cover charge in a shop that has a members only lounge. In that case, your cover charge is actually a day pass to access the lounge and its amenities.
From Bob McDuffy (CigarRadio): Will the staff offer advice on what cigar to choose?
Absolutely, I wouldn’t suggest going to a shop which employed those that could not help you make a decision. Because taste is such a subjective thing, the staff may ask you a few questions to help narrow down the selection. These questions will often include past smoking experience as well as what types of food you prefer.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything that is or is not suggested to you. Be on the lookout for the occasional cigar shop that is looking for nothing more than to make the most profit as possible. Be aware that it is extremely unlikely that you are going to find “Legal Cubans” in your neighborhood cigar shop.
From Carol Wingert (carolwingert): Should I buy a variety of cigars my first time out or just one?
Once again, taste is a very subjective thing. By purchasing a few cigars, you will increase your odds on finding something that you like. Even if your local cigar shop employee is thorough in his helping you select a stick, it is still a gamble. By purchasing three to five cigars, it allows you to pepper a certain flavor and body range, increasing the odds that you will find something that you will come back to.
From Mike (KnightRid): Are the darker ones stronger than the lighter ones?
This question is a massive cigar misconception. Many new cigar smokers, I used to do this myself, shy away from Maduro cigars because they look intimidating. While the wrapper does play a large part in the flavor profile delivered by the cigar, the filler and binder play a part as well. By placing a dark and oily Maduro wrapper on a very mild blend, you get a mild cigar with the flavors of Maduro.
The opposite is true as well. If you place a blonde Connecticut Shade on a blend that is made out of entirely Ligero, you’ve got yourself a Connecticut Shade wrapped power bomb. For this reason, you can not judge a cigar by its wrapper, without knowing what the remainder of the cigar is comprised of. Your local tobacconist will help guide you in this area so that you don’t find yourself puffing on something that will ultimately make you feel ill.
This article was intended to give you a basic understanding of what you may find at your local cigar shop. You will find that shops vary greatly from one to another, making them unique and fun to visit. In these tough times for local tobacconists, I hope that this inspires you to drop in and visit a cigar shop sometime.
27 thoughts on “Cigar Shop Primer”
Great article Walt. I imagine a lot of smokers are intimidated by the thought of going to a shop for the 1st time. I know I was. It’s great to find a good shop and be able share the love of cigars with others.
I used to buy online only because I thought the best deals were only available on the web. My was source was JR Cigars online. However after smoking with some older guys at a local cigar lounge by my dads house in the Dallas area (Havana Jims Cigars) I realized the best cigars and company weren’t online. My online source didn’t even sell what has become one of my favorites, Rocky Patel! I strongly agree that the local cigar shop is a must for new smokers . You will meet some new friends, get educated, and find some sticks that you prob. won’t find online. Dont get me wrong, I still buy online for a few deals and to get sticks my local doesn’t have, but I still prefer browsing and chatting in a store.
Nice Write-Up Walt !!
You could have included the cigar friendly site (http://www.cigarfriendly.us/) might help with decisions concerning smoking laws/policies.
Bottom Line: To new smokers or visitors…don’t be scared! In most placed you will be welcomed as if you were a regular. At least in my experiences.
Great article Walt. There are a few other benefits to going to the local store as well. The more you go, the more comfortable the staff is with you, the more likely they will put things aside for you when they come in. My favorite haunts in Southern NH do just that, and occasionaly throw me a freebee here and there.
Another benefit is you can see how the cigars are stored. I find that receiving cigars from some of the big on-line retailers in singles or fivepacks, sometime don’t seem to be the best in quality. For instance, I had a run of 15 Pepin JJ belicosos from one store, and every single one of them split while smoking. Talk about being upset!
I also believe in supporting my local economy, and tend to find smokes around here are cheaper than online in most instances. I haven’t purchased NC smokes on line in over a year.
Intimidated to go to a new cigar shop? I’m excited to go check out a new place. I could see maybe a lot of cigar smokers who weren’t 18 years old being intimidated, not an adult.
I 2nd what ToastedCoastie said, in fact I just got back from one of my local haunts where the owner set aside 2 Sopranos Gift Sets, with the 4 cigars, for me because he knowsI love ’em! The price? 19.99 apiece. I DARE you to find that set online at a better price!
Good review, Walt. I think this primer is very much needed – I’m a kind of timid person (shocking if you knew me in real life…lol), and I definitely feel a lot of anxiety going into a new place (including cigar shops/lounges). Nice tips for those who haven’t experienced the B&M.
Another great article Walt, and one that will definitely be beneficial to newbies and maybe even a few old-pros.
One of the things I dearly miss living on my “ocean paradise” is the lack of nearby B&M’s. (closest is 65 miles away) I prefer to purchase at local establishments, because I like to support locals and I appreciate the fellowship with other BOTL. I’ve found that I almost always learn something when I am sitting in a well-appointed shop with knowledgeable staff and good friends enjoying a fine stogie and beverage.
i never realized how good i had it. i also didnt realize people would be nervous goin into a store for the first time. to any new smokers i highly suggest going into a shop. thats where i learned pretty much everything. infact ive tried some of my favorite cigars because the guys at my shop know what i like and put me on to new things. And it didnt suck when i walked into holts last month and was handed a VSG eclipse before they were released.
Im 25 now, and over the past 4 years ive only been greeted with open arms in any shop ive been too, despite being the youngest (and bestlookin lol) dude in there. walk in, dont be disrespectful, bullshit a little and you’ll be suprised in what u will find. Afterall, you’re there for the same reason everyone else is.
and by the way, walt. great article.
Good stuff Walt. When I first started smoking I did the 100% online thing. Why? Because I was intimidated by the B&M. Why? Because I didn’t know anything and thought I would feel uncomfortable being around cigar smokers who knew more and would potentially look down on me. Boy was I wrong.
Today, unless its an exclusive cigar to an online retailer or something I can’t find at one of my local B&Ms then I’m buying at my local shops. Many have pointed out the advantages. From supporting local small businesses, to meeting other cigar passionados…get out there and find that home away from home.
“cigar passionado”? Is that some kind of new lifestyle magazine for tree-hugging elves? 🙂
Don’t forget about foul mouthed leprechauns!
I’ve always been a fan of a good B&M and I can say that those experiences at a B&M are far more memorable than just buying cigars online. I usually get real giddy and excited before a trip to a store I’ve either been to or not and can’t wait to talk to the staff and other Cigar “passionados” let alone get the full expierence of a walk in humidor or at least a large collection of smokes that I can touch and feel, not just read about. Great article Walt, and to anyone who’s nervious or a little uncomfortable or unused to going into a B&M; don’t be because the expierience is not just memorable it’s majical just like when you were a kid , pure majic. And who knows maybee you’ll make a friend or get to try special cigars before there released going into a local store, i’d reccomend it. Thnaks for another great article Walt.
Great article Walt! I think this will definitely help people out that are just starting to find local b&m’s or have been going to them for a while, but just walked in to buy and leave. I have seen some “cliches” in cigar shops, but for the most part everyone is friendly and offers help where they can!
I still wish there were more local shops! There are no shops closer than a 15 minute drive and for a minimally decent shop, I have to go about 25 minutes away by car. I try and visit local shops for buying, but with the distance to get there and my disability (neck/back, not supposed to drive so I dont have my own car) it makes it very difficult to get out and do the local buying. One of these days I will hit the lottery and open my own shop =)
I am new to the world of cigars. I did visit a cigar shop & was a bit intimidated walking in, because I didn’t know the ‘in’s & out’s’. I asked to look at their cigars & was taken to the humidor. I must’ve spent at least an hour in there by myself just browsing around, looking for the sticks I would read about online. Good thing I decided to buy a couple of singles. Your post was really helpful to me.
Great article! Personally, I never really felt intimidated due to my early experiences being at Ed’s shop. I walked in and told him I knew nothing about cigars. He asked a series of questions about my tastes in food and flavor preferences. When I would reach for an expensive Macanudo or Gurkha, he’d point me to a cheaper stick that he felt matched me better. He basically trained me on picking out flavors and smoking techniques.
This is how a noob should be treated in a shop. If at any point I was intimidated I would have simply left.
Now that it’s been a few years, I don’t need the help when going to the larger shops like Tampa Humidor or Corona. Starting out at a large place like that probably wouldn’t have been a good idea.
You’ve done a great job of synthesizing the combination of emotions that can go on in someone who feels they might be in over their heads in what can be a complex and overwhelming arena of pleasure. I’m sure if I were just getting into fly fishing or scuba diving or archery it might be the same sort of thing.
As the petri dish for your study on this piece, let me give your readers some of the thoughts from the other side of the smokeshop register:
I know in my heart there are no dumb questions. Regardless of how many times you hear the same ones. As a small B & M, I should be glad I’m getting enough foot traffic to have people asking these questions. And no tobacco retailer in their right mind is looking to “make a killing” by moving dead stock, overpriced humidors or other opportunistic sales to take advantage of a patrons inexperience or lack of knowledge. I’d rather “teach them to fish” so they keep returning to my pond repeatedly.
So if I answer your question with a question, it’s just so I can draw a bead on what may be the best match for your palate/budget/experience. If I can get nothing more that what you were planning to spend, other smokes you’ve liked/hated and a size preference, i can send some out of the shop with something that will be in the realm of what they were after.
As to the social aspect of what goes on in the lounge, it strikes me a not much different than if you head out to golf as a single. You’ll probably get paired up with people you’ve never met, but are there for the same purpose as you – doing something they enjoy, relaxing and getting away from the grind. The networking, local recommendations on places to eat and drink and tales of domestic “bliss” are just bonuses. I try and keep hands off as to what goes on in my lounge, but if you’re having a bad experience -whether environmental, personalities or equipment, please bring it up to the owner/manager. We want to know and correct or improve it.
Mention lines you like, what you’d like to see added to a shop’s offerings. After all, I think of my shop as a public trust. I’m not going to have everything or even please everyone, but the object is to offer for sale what the public wants. If I can offer advice, competitive prices and great customer service, then I’ve done what I can to consider myself a respectable tobacconist.
Remember, us “little guys” are like the Mom & Pop shops you really miss when they’re gone. And everyone should visit their Mom & Pop.
Great article. Something that was hinted at but deserves direct explanation. Respect. Respect the product, the people, the place, and the property (couches, t.v.s, lighters, etc.).
Thank you for this article. I feel its ok to shop and buy online as a consumer myself but if you can get it locally why not? If we cigar smokers do not support local b&m stores who will you ask for cigar advise? In most cases online retailers and local b&m stores are priced the same after you pay s&h.I have been in this industry half of my life and love everything about building relationships with my customers.Cigars and conversation will you get that online?
great article Walt! Thanks.
Up here in Portland, OR, I’ve had some mixed results with B&M shops… There’s a few choices. Some have great selection and stodgy service (like they’re thinking, “Who the frick is this kid? He’s probably not going to buy anything…”), others have a little less to choose from but with really helpful and unknowledgeable people working there…
I’ve definitely felt like an idiot going into a few of the shops up here; not being treated very well for being a complete newbie. But as I go more and more, i get a bit more comfortable… especially since i’m doing more research online, and relying less and less on their customer service.
As a newbie to cigar, I’m trying to do it right… support the locals and all that… But it’s hard because the crowd is so unlike my own (i’m young, business and tech, they’re older, tommy bahama and sportsmen). That, in and of itself, is just something that makes it a little unnatural at first. I’m sure we could all be great friends in time!
Oh, i also wish my cigar lounges got their liquor license… that would certainly give me more of a reason to head down and smoke with some folks at the lounge rather than in my backyard. Especially when it’s cold out.
Cheers, great post Walt