Two years ago, cigars were all the rage.
Buoyed by glossy magazines touting stogies as an accessory of
the hip elite, sales skyrocketed. In 1996, sales of premium,
hand-rolled cigars jumped 67 percent. In 1997, they leapt another
Cigar night at the Mansion Hill Inn, which boasted the longest
continuously running cigar night in the country, couldn't compete
with the dozens of restaurants and bars offering their own
"Everybody was doing a cigar event," Steve Stofelano, Jr. said
of his restaurant's 1996 decision to stop offering theirs.
But indications now are that the fad is fading out, and fast.
Across the Hudson River in Troy, J. Cabrella Inc., a
two-year-old cigar shop, has filed bankruptcy, citing more than
$71,000 in obligations to creditors.
Love of the Leaf, a shop five miles north in Loudonville,
snuffed its operation months ago.
Clearance deals are the norm at cigar shops across the region.
And in bars and restaurants, cigar nights aren't the draw they
once were. Stofelano decided to offer one this past Father's Day.
It was a wonderful night, he said, but he had to struggle to get 30
guests. And the ones who came were the old regulars, not the young
For them, cigars have come and gone. "Everybody, if you will,
has been there, done that," he said.
It's the same story 200 miles west in Rochester, where
restaurateur Ziad Wehbe isn't bothering to replenish cigar stocks
at Oasis Mediterranean Bistro.
"I don't think anyone cares about them any more," he said.
The "cigar great awakening" was bound to crash, said Gerald
Celente of Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y. The boom
was marketing-driven, rather than consumer-driven, and reality
couldn't sustain the imagery. Especially among women.
"It's very unfeminine, and they stink," he said. "Despite all
the hype and the glossy advertising, women were never going to
become cigar smokers en masse."
And cigar smoking has a heavy "repulse factor," that makes
cigar smokers a nuisance at parties and restaurants, Celente said.
For 1999, analysts predict a 10 percent fall in sales of premium
cigars. Three cigar companies JR Cigar, Inc.; General Cigar
Holdings and Dimon, Inc., showed quarterly revenues down
significantly from the same period in 1998. Holt's, another cigar
company, saw its stock rating downgraded by Prudential Bache.
"The fact is there's a limited market out there, and its
saturated," Brown Brothers Harriman Analyst Roy Burry said.
The cigar business crested in 1964, when Americans were smoking
9 billion yearly. By 1992, government health warnings had caused
the industry to fall some 77 percent, to 2.1 billion cigars yearly.
Then, suddenly, things changed. There was a 14.6 percent jump in
sales in 1994, followed by a 31 percent rise in 1995. In 1996,
sales of premium, hand-rolled cigars jumped 67 percent. In 1997,
they leapt another 30 percent. The Cigar Association of America
didn't compile figures for 1998.
"It was seen as one of life's affordable little luxuries, like
fine wines and single malt scotches," Sharp said.
The soaring economy didn't hurt. Imports poured in from some 18
countries, and new outlets continued to sprout. Prices climbed.
Most of the newest ones were too late, said Lee Zyniecki.
Zyniecki, who has owned Edleez Tobacco for 19 years, is somewhat of
an icon among tobacconists locally and nationally.
"It will never go back to what it was during the bonanza. All
these people were gung-ho. Now that's come back down," she said.
What's left are the ones who have been smoking cigars all along,
and these customers tend to be loyal to vendors who know about the
business and can obtain good cigars when no one else can.
"The craze is over," said Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar
Association of America.