John Henry, left, and Dave Webb, two of the co-owners of Third Street Cigar, sit back and enjoy a quiet moment at their Waterville store in their dogged pursuit of a place for fellow aficionados.
Cigar in hand, John Henry gestures to black-and-white photos of some of the biggest names in the history of blues and rock music playing in and around Toledo.
There’s Muddy Waters. Clapton. Springsteen. Bad Company, tuning their guitars in a men’s room at the old Sports Arena. A youthful Elvis in the mid 1950s. A haggard Elvis on his last tour.
“There’s ZZ Top when they were thin and didn’t have big beards,” Mr. Henry muses.
While the folklore legend with whom he shares his name was most at ease with a hammer in his hand, this John Henry prefers a cigar.
Here, in a 124-year-old building in Waterville, Mr. Henry wants to share that passion with others.
A financial adviser by trade, he recently joined three friends and fellow cigar aficionados to open Third Street Cigar, a retail store and two-story smoking lounge where Toledo history mixes with blues music and the rich smell of tobacco.
“We’ve kind of tried to create a whole historic theme and a different experience,” Mr. Henry said. “We’re obviously a really relaxed and laid-back atmosphere to come in and enjoy a quality cigar.”
The store, at 20 N. Third St., opened a couple weeks ago. A grand-opening celebration is planned for Friday and Saturday.
The first level of the store has a retail counter where they sell smoking accessories and bulk pipe tobacco, a custom-built, computer-controlled Spanish cedar humidor, a few plush chairs, and the obligatory cigar store Indian. The shop’s owners say the statue is a legitimate original, likely carved in the late 1940s or early 1950s.
Third Street Cigar also is a retail store with cigars in the $5 to $8 range, but with some selling for as much as $30. The store’s custom-built humidor has a computer-controlled atmosphere to keep the tobacco fresh.
The second floor is a lounge, with large leather chairs and ashtrays. Both floors are equipped with charcoal filters that suck in smoke and churn out clean air.
Much like cigarettes, cigar consumption in the United States began falling in the mid 1970s. However, while cigarette usage continues to decrease, traditional cigars have seen something of a revival.
Sales began growing in the mid 1990s and again grew through the 2000s. According to government data, sales of large cigars rose from 3.5 billion in 2000 to 10.3 billion in 2011. Some of that is because of a change in how products are treated for tax purposes, but cigars clearly have seen a resurgence.
Though health officials caution that cigars have many of the same dangers as cigarettes, many smokers view the two products quite differently.
“The cigar smoker is somebody who sits down and drinks a fine bottle of wine. It’s something you enjoy like that,” Mr. Henry said.
That’s part of the allure of their store, the owners say.
While the four want a return on their investment — they declined to say exactly how much they’ve spent getting the business off the ground — a lot of what they’re doing is for fun and to keep them busy.
“Why did we want to do it?” Mr. Henry said. “For fun. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It was fun. I had a lot of the memorabilia, so it was a cool thing to do with it.”
Co-owner Dave Webb likes cigars, but he likes the conversation and camaraderie more.
A retired pilot who flew combat missions in Vietnam and commercial flights around the world for American Airlines, Mr. Webb said the lounge represents “another fighter squadron.”
“We just talk about a million different things,” he said. “Conversation is all over the place.”
For Mr. Webb, it’s also something to do. A South Toledo native, Mr. Webb spent the past several years living in France on an 80-foot houseboat he built. He said he also has built houses and an aircraft.
“This is just to me another project I can sink my teeth into,” he said.
Photographs of famous blues and rock musicians line the wall of the Third Street Cigar store’s second-floor smoking lounge.
The store’s other co-owners are Randy Tucker and Tom Clark.
Most of the cigars at Third Street Cigar are in the $5 to $8 range, though some cost up to $30. The owners say cigar preference varies much like preference on wines or coffee, largely depending on one’s palette and desire for a prestige brand.
They figure to pick up a random sale here and there, but anticipate developing a loyal clientele who frequent the lounge. They say they think they can draw well from a two-hour radius of the store.
And it’s not just wealthy male business owners who smoke cigars. Mr. Webb and Mr. Henry say a growing number of women are now smoking cigars. Another group they somewhat ironically serve seems to be cardiologists.
“I think every cardiologist in Toledo smokes cigars,” Mr. Webb joked.
By putting the bulk of the lounge upstairs instead of upfront, they say their store is more inviting for the casual buyers who don’t have to contend with a wall of swirling smoke and curious eyes as soon as they enter the building. Work is also under way to install a private lounge in the back of the building, where members have 24-hour access and their own storage lockers.
Downstairs, they have a second humidor where they can keep extra inventory, allowing them to save money by buying in bulk and giving them a better chance of having a someone’s specific brand on hand.