Yesterday was a big day at the Cigars International Superstore in Hamburg, PA. Erik Espinosa was on hand all day selling his cigars there, and there was a line wrapping around the building of people waiting to but their CigarFest tickets. I understand that tickets sold out in under a minute on-line, and I also was told that people started lining up at 4pm Friday! The crazy part of this (or one of them) was that it was brutally cold out, the very crowded CI store looked like a ski lodge with all the people bundled up. I understand that CigarFest is a big event, something like 3000 people per day over two days, with many making a weekend of it, but that kind of crowd isn’t my bag. But a lot of people dig it, so more power to them! I made for a crowded store, it was hard to find a seat, what with people leaving their coats and stuff on seats and tables and socializing elsewhere, which is in very bad form, in my opinion. Some patrons like to sit and relax, some like to wander and socialize, but you can’t have it both ways. We found a table by the door, which was constantly opening so it wasn’t very comfortable. I had bought a selection of Espinosa cigars, and lit up a CI exclusive that was recommended to be by a CI staff member called Comfortably Numb Vo,. 1. The band on this is in the classic Bob Masse ’60s concert poster style, very psychedelic. This 6″ x 52 Toro has an Ecuador Habano wrapper, Corojo binder and Nicaraguan fillers. The wrapper is milk-chocolate-brown with very fine veins, it’s an attractive cigar. I was very surprised with this cigar, pleasantly so. It was perfect for early in the day, the flavors were smooth and creamy, with some sweetness akin to a coffee with cream and sugar (which paired nicely with the cup of black coffee I enjoyed). I really should have grabbed another handful of these, but I had spent too much there already! Great cigar.
Erik Espinosa is one of those guys in the cigar industry that I don’t know as well as some, however, when I walked into the store he walked up behind me and greeted me like an old friend, as did Juan Cancel from Cubariqueno Cigar Co. and Jose Galvez, our local Espinosa sales guy. While I haven’t smoked a ton of Espinosa branded cigars, Some brands made at his La Zona factory in Esteli are among my favorites. Cornelius & Anthony, La Sirena are in my list of go tos, and I’ve enjoyed my fair share of Arandoza cigars too, and I’ve bought plenty of 601 La Bombas in the past, going back to EO brands days. One of the cigars I bought was the 601 Steel, which was an exclusive for Famous Smoke Shop, oddly enough. At some point that exclusivity agreement ended, and CI took on the line. Considering CI is headquartered in Bethlehem, PA, which was known for it’s steel mills, it makes sense for CI to carry it. It’s a reasonably priced cigar, and while it’s billed as full-bodied, I didn’t find it to be that at all. It struck me as medium at best, but what do I know. It’s listed as having a dark Habano Oscuro wrapper and Nicaraguan fillers and binder. I didn’t find the wrapper to be all that dark. It had a nice flavor, burned a little off, but OK, and was a perfectly nice smoke. I also picked up some Murciualago (with red bands and silver, a Dread, and another event exclusive that looks like an Ecuador Connecticut wrapped cigar. I’ll get to some of them in the near future. We left the shop after the one cigar, it was just to noisy and crowded for my liking. It was nice of Matt Cook, who’s the Director of Retail Operations, to stop by and say hello. I probably wouldn’t know Matt if we didn’t have a mutual friend.
In related news, it was announced this week that Thompson Cigars has been acquired by the parent company of Cigars International.
Scandinavian Tobacco Group today signed an agreement to acquire the business of Thompson and Co. of Tampa, Inc. “Thompson”). The purchase price amounts to USD 62 million and the acquisition will be financed by existing cash at hand. The closing of the deal is expected to take place by the end of March 2018.
There’s a lot more to the press release, which is at many of my colleague’s sites, but I’m going to offer my unsolicited $0.02. Over the last year or so Cigars International’s mail order division had a major problem with a new computer system, which damaged their brand significantly in the eyes of the consumer. I’m sure many retailers in both the brick and mortar and mail order spaces rejoiced. Thompson has been selling cigars for over 100 years, I ordered a special out of a magazine add in 1996 and am still on the mailing list, and have gotten plenty of phone calls from them (I wrote about their auction site back in 2012, the story is here), and never was a fan of dealing with them. Other’s have had great experiences, and, given the history, many must like them. So from my biased perspective, a company that had big problems buys a company with a questionable marketing reputation? I don’t get it, but the people spending the $62 million are much smarter than I am. I’ve never had an issue with CI, granted I live close by, and it’s nice to visit their stores, but I like visiting most stores (see last weeks post!). With plans to also open a superstore in Texas announced by CI, and Altadis’ parent company and Davidoff buying and opening stores all over the place, clearly the trend is to go direct to consumer. Will Swisher be looking to go this route? What’s the future hold for the mom & pop shops? Kinda sounds like how Walmart killed small business a little, doesn’t it?
That’s all for now. To those afflicted, enjoy Super Bowl Sunday! I know as a resident of the Philadelphia are I should be excited, but I’m not a football fan. The Flyers better get their shit together though! I have some of Bernie Parent’s cigars that I want to smoke in honor of a Stanley Cup win one of these days! Until the next time,