I was 16 years old the first time I ever stepped foot into a tobacco shop. Taking place over 20 years ago, this was before all the draconian laws were made to tax and ban smoking out of existence. I’m 37 now. I’ve been going to the same shop all this time. Others have come and gone, but one store has stood the test of the ages.
To start at the beginning, you have to go back to 1880. A man name Henry Straus opened a wholesale cigar company in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was a real grassroots endeavor that took the city by storm. Over the course of several years the business stayed the course, and by 1905 Henry held the spot of one of the top cigar operations in America.
At the end of World War II, Straus was shipping its famous tobacco, Private Stock, all over the country. Their name strengthened. By the year 2000, and thanks to a cigar boom, Straus was able to open a second store. I was happy because that meant I wouldn’t have to hoof it all the way to Cincinnati for a proper smoke.
I was in my early twenties and working as a collections agent for Citigroup while I fought my way through the dog-eat-dog world of Art school. What little money I had was spent on cigars, pipe tobacco, and Archie comic books. This would prompt many to say that I was born too late for my own good, having missed the golden years of pipe tobacco and Archie. I would ignore them as I read and puffed into the night.
Where can a guy go? There aren’t many places for a person misplaced out of time. Luckily I found my sanctuary in a small tobacconist five minutes from my house.
Something you should know about me is that, as an artist, I’ve seen some extreme ups and downs. I was homeless for five years in my early 20’s when my job at Citi was replaced by someone overseas, and I had nowhere else to turn. I had to work my way to where I am today. It wasn’t easy. Without a family to rely on and with a stubborn resolve that I would, without a doubt, have to make money doing something I love, I forced myself into a corner.
The tale I tell isn’t a sob story. All these things I went through made me the man I am today. Now I run this website, write for other sites, work as a photographer, and try hard to make the world a better place, but I would never have thought I’d be where I am if you asked me 17 years ago.
Yes, many things have changed in my life as I reflect on this crooked life I’ve lived, but there has been one constant: The kind, generous, and knowledgeable people behind the counter at Straus have always been there to make my life better.
With a great selection of cigars, a comfortable smoking parlor (one of the few places you can smoke indoors while visiting this state), and a staff of kind folks who know their tobacco, there’s nowhere else I would instead go.
Over the years Straus, without a doubt, saw me at my worst and now at my best and they never changed. I sure they observe many lives from their vantage point behind the counter. I’ve been going there for over 20 years, and they’ve always been top notch! They hold a uniform consistency; there’s something that is impressive and admirable in that kind of weekly consistency for so many years. I think that’s one of the things, along with excellent service, knowledgeable workers, and a kind hello, that keeps people coming back.
I still visit my friends at Straus at least once a week, and if you get the chance, I suggest you visit them as well. You’ll be glad you did.