My favorite cigar shop is closing today. I got an email on Friday from the owner. “Closing down sale, cash only sale, all must go.” I’ve lived through the demise of a business or two myself, so I am acutely aware of how hard it was for the owner to type those few terse words. It was the only cigar store in the area with a bar in it, attracting an eclectic clientele who often hung around to debate the issues of the day over a glass of beer or wine. In many ways, the closing of this small business is a grim, uniquely personal reminder of the fundamental weakness that continues to persist in our national economy.
I actually ran into the owner of the store last week in a coffee shop. I hadn’t seen him in awhile. Even though I am an avid cigar smoker who has enjoyed many, many pleasurable hours in the company of fellow stogie lovers at his store, like everyone else, when it is time to economize, those items I consider luxuries are the first things I cut back on.
70 percent of Americans questioned in a Zogby International interactive poll said they have cut back on their entertainment budgets.
Forty percent also said they are spending less on food and groceries, and 16 percent have gone without medical or prescription drugs in the past year.
Hand rolled cigar smokers are a fairly small segment of the smoking population. But as Tom Johansmeyer writes in his article Who Smokes Cigars?, “there is no cigar smoker archetype.” Most of the guys who used to frequent my favorite shop were well educated, gregarious, and highly opinionated, a combination sparking many high level discussions or arguments over centuries-old questions that might last, in nightly installments, for days at a time.
But I moved a few years ago to a new neighborhood, turning a five minute trip around the corner into one that now takes about 15 minutes in traffic. And with fewer loan closings as the mortgage business tanked, I found more and more reasons to cut back on the number of excursions to this cigar smokers paradise for a smoke and a couple of beers, until I got out of the habit of going at all. I was not alone. Many of the other customers — CFO’s, architects, corporate middle managers — were either taking pay cuts or losing their jobs.
There is no little irony in the fact that the last batch of cigars I smoked were an impromptu gift from my neighbor, an executive at a big box discount retailer whose chain sells cigars for considerably less than my favorite cigar shop. It is going to be hard, when I finish writing this, to make that fifteen minute trek to my favorite cigar shop for the last time. It will be devastating to see the owner, a man with a wife and a small child, taking apart shelving and the bar and the art installations his architect wife painstakingly designed, creations that he built himself.
I imagine I will see many old faces, and hear in the stories they tell what you see on your TV every night — that the American economy is still struggling.