What to look for in a good Cigar Shop & What to avoid
Many of us are introduced to cigar smoking by a family member, in my case my father, or a friend and this is how we partake in our first experience in the cigar smoking lifestyle. Yet there are a number of people that their first experience is walking into a cigar shop for the very first time and inquiring about cigars. The experience of walking into a cigar shop for the first time can be one that is daunting to say the least. For me it was like I stepped back in time and had a bunch of stuffy old men looking at me thinking “What are you doing here kid?” Of course, I wanted to buy some cigars and was out on my own as a young man looking to start and build my collection. I knew the shop because it was the one my father bought his cigars at, so I had this advantage going for me my first time in alone. But, not all of us get this advantage so I want to investigate What to look for in a good Cigar Shop & What to avoid.
In exploring this subject matter, it is important to know that most of what is good is the opposite of what to avoid. Personally I have been to over a thousand cigar shops worldwide in my life and I can tell you they come in all forms and sizes and each has its unique character, whether that be in the decor or the people that work there. I have a few things that are key for me that I look for in a new shop when I enter. Is it shop-able, organized, clean and is the staff attentive and courteous? These items take no particular ranking for me, but I find that the four items are the things I look for first and foremost in any cigar shop. As you may have guessed if these four items are not present then I am not present and usually exit the shop as a consumer. With that said however, that is not always the case, since some shops this is their thing or vibe so to speak. I can think of one such case that is in my local area which I frequent often yet it is none of the four things mentioned. It is the way the cigar shop is but not being those things is what makes it so special to me.
So, let us explore some of the things that make a good Cigar Shop and the things to avoid too.
- Shop-able, you should be able to explore the shop easily. If the shop is an obstacle course and the humidor leaves you little space to move before you knock things over then this is not good. You want to be able to look and touch the product easily and without concern. It is important that you can see everything you are interested in and that you do not have to struggle to look at something you want to buy. Often cigar shops seem to think that the more cluttered the shop is the more someone will ask for assistance. Today, especially with all forms of competition in the marketplace, people do not have time to nor do they want to ask for assistance. They just to be able to examine “what’s for sale.” Now I know that at times the cigar shop may not be this way due to a delivery or the shop is re-organizing, but it is easy to tell if the cigar shop is shop-able even in these situations by just looking around and see the parts that are not in flux.
- Clean! Boy is this a BIG one for me. Clean means that when you look around it does not look like the cleaning team has not been in the shop for a decade. Clean is seeing ashtrays empty without finished cigars or ashes in them. It means the trashcan is not overflowing. It means the floor has been vacuumed, swept, or mopped at least in the reasonable recent past. Clean also lets me know how the ownership views the product they sell. If the place is dirty, then are they keeping the humidor in good condition? How are my cigars, do they have a layer of dust all over them? Clean is easy to detect since you will notice it the moment you enter. I prefer clean cigar shops and avoid those that are not. However, remember clean means it is clean and not that the owner has set it up to look what some may call old school or disheveled. There are cigar shops around the world that have a character that is old school or disheveled but when you look around you know it is kept clean.
- Organized, even if in an odd fashion. Just because it looks like a mess does not mean it is a mess. Remember sometimes first impression is not right and taking a moment to look further can lead you to a cigar shop that meets a lot of other criteria in being good. Organization is done in many ways and for many different reasons. I can think of several cigar shops that on the surface look so disorganized you would think you could not find a thing in there. However, once you take a further look the disorganization is part of the charm and in fact it has led to organization in an odd way. Should I come across a cigar shop that seems to be disorganized I have a simple test to see if it is or isn’t; I just ask the person working to please guide me to a specific cigar I know most cigar shops carry. If the person working at that moment can do it easily then I know that the disorganization is a look versus the reality. Of course, if they cannot then odds are, I leave looking for a good cigar shop elsewhere.
- Staff! Being attentive and courteous and asked if you need assistance is an important sign of what makes a cigar shop good. Even if you are an aficionado and have been to multiple cigar shops it is always nice to know you have been recognized and someone is there to assist you. This fact alone is one of my most important facts as to what makes a good cigar I have had many experiences where I have wandered around a cigar shop, went into the walk-in humidor, and even used the restroom without one person on staff acknowledging my presence or knowing I was there. Of course, I did not purchase nor stay awfully long but, to this day, I find it funny that I can still find this in a cigar shop. As a consumer it is important that you are greeted or recognized when you enter the cigar shop and have a person working that is courteous and attentive to your needs.
Beyond the four first items I look for there is a list of other things the make a cigar shop good too.
- Willingness to Educate, many new smokers want to learn about cigars and the do’s and don’ts of the cigar lifestyle. The staff and owners of good cigar shops are more than willing to take a new cigar smoker under their wing, but they should also be willing to educate the aficionado too. The industry always has something more to learn and the best cigar shops are always learning and offering education to the patrons. This is a sign of a good cigar
- A Proper Humidor. It is rare these days that you walk into a humidor and it smells musty but when you do this is not good. A humidor also should not be hot. The magic numbers are 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 70% humidity. The humidor, if it is a walk-in, should feel like a cool summer night not high noon at the beach. Also, one thing I look at is the clear cellophane on the cigars, it should be bright and clear and not contain any dull residue. The residue is a natural occurrence of several humidity systems used, but personally I believe it should be wiped off regularly; remember Clean?
- You may be asking why is this important to making a cigar shop good? For me when a cigar shop has a vast selection of the things that are important to the cigar smoking lifestyle then it shows me that this shop truly understands the lifestyle. Yes, accessories all work in one way or another but having options is good and knowing why there are these options is better. As an example, if you want to use a V Cutter but the cigar shop only sells single straight cutters it creates a problem. If you want a wood humidor but the cigar shop only sells plastic humidors it creates a problem. Having options in this department means the owners and staff have a breath of knowledge and can educate someone on the choices and preferences. Of course, every cigar shop and its ownership have their preference when it comes to the accessories they carry. The key is to know two things, do they carry a variety and if not, why not? I know of cigar shops that focus on the humidor as the number one priority and accessories are not important enough that they only carry the bare minimum. This is OK but it is good to know why.
- Character is something that you cannot touch, measure, or truly see. Overall, it is the way how a specific cigar shop makes you feel. You know it when you have it but cannot quite put your finger on it when it is missing. Good cigar shops all have a unique and specific character to them. I know cigar shops that by my measurement I would consider to be great but for me they lack character or at least the character I look for. I like a cigar shop to feel like home, a place that I know the people and they know me. Character may override some of the topics above since it can make a cigar shop that does not have all the good attributes become a good one while lacking some things listed above. Character is interesting and even though I am rather strict with the first four things I look for in a good cigar shop, it being shop-able, organized, clean and the staff is attentive and courteous, when a cigar shop has great character I am flexible on the four things. Let us not make it a habit though.
In the end only you can truly decide what makes a cigar shop good or great and since this lifestyle allows for a lot of personal preference, the cigar shop in the end is one of those preferences. For me I try to stick to the points mentioned above but I know I make my exceptions and will be flexible when a few of the above mentioned items are outstanding while the rest may be passable on my grading scale. Each cigar shop has a story and in closing I will say that learning about the story is one of the things that makes this lifestyle and smoking cigars so great.