On the back end of the El Cortez Hotel, a little store popped up on Arlington some three months ago. From the exterior, it seems almost too small to be anything but a one-seat barber shop or the false entrance to a speakeasy. The sign, though, says it all: Guama & Hatuey Cigars. It’s at 218 N. Arlington Ave., 786-1220. It’s run by the affable Omar Hernandez, whose grasp of a fine stogy is better than his grasp of the English language. The store’s interior basically includes a short counter, television, hand-scrawled well-wishes on the walls, comfortable seating around a table designed for smoking and a medium-sized, cedar humidor. It looks like you’d hope a hole-in-the-wall cigar store would. It’s got the potential to be something out of the ordinary in the downtown area—if you smoke cigars, that is.
What inspired you to open here on the back side of the El Cortez Hotel?
I saw the sign here, and I thought that this was a good area. I rent here because it was my idea, for a long time, to open a store.
Are you Cuban?
Yes, 100 percent.
You can’t sell Cuban cigars, right?
No, we can’t.
How do you get cigars, then?
I have a friend with a factory in the Dominican Republic—a factory and a plantation. We roll the cigars in the Dominican Republic. But we use Cuban seed.
Cuban seed, yes.
So they’re imported already rolled?
Do you go to the Dominican Republic to pick them up?
No. They ship them here.
Is that family?
Are you getting customers? Has Reno noticed you’re here yet?
My buddy has another cigar store on Virginia Street. I come here to help him, and we think maybe it’s a good option to open another cigar store, and that’s the reason I open the cigar store.
But is there business?
Business now is slower. I hope it becomes better.
What does it take to open a cigar store?
We are open every day from 10 to 10. We have all the types of cigars. The quality is good quality. We have some customers; they like it.
And do they come in and sit around?
Yeah, they come in and sit down here. They smoke a cigar and drink Cuban coffee free and enjoy the cigar.
What should people know when they purchase a cigar?
They should smoke a cigar with good quality. The Cuban seed has good quality. The Dominican Republic has the same weather as Cuba. And that’s good quality for a cigar.
How can they tell if it’s a quality cigar?
It depends on the size, depends on whether it’s mild, medium. We have some flavored with cognac, or sweet or natural taste.