Tobacco master

Jay Schmitt

Photo by Jimmy Boegle

Jay Schmitt, 57, is co-owner of the Tinder Box store in the Southwest Pavilion at South Virginia Street and Patriot Boulevard. The graduate of California State University at Sacramento moved to Reno in 1982 and was an executive with Sierra Pacific Power Company for 13 years. The father of two opened his Tinder Box store in Mayberry Landing about five years ago before moving the store to Southwest Pavilion last December. His business is one of 107 Tinder Box franchises nationwide (another Tinder Box store, in Park Lane Mall, has different ownership).

Why are cigars so popular these days?

They were popular in the mid-1990s. That was when Cigar Aficionado, published by Wine Spectator publisher Marvin Shanken, was started. That helped. Everyone was trying it—celebrities, women, even young children, even though we didn’t sell to young children. For about 2 1/2 years, business was up 30 percent. Since then, it’s down 40 percent. It’s leveled off to the true cigar aficionados again.

I must be wrong. It does seem like you see them more, though.

I think that because of the boom period, it’s a little more acceptable, especially in Nevada, although not in California, which is pretty much a non-smoking state.

Some people think that cigars really stink. What do you say to them?

People are thinking back to their grandfathers and uncles who smoked cheap cigars that were machine-rolled with paper. What you were smelling was the paper. Today’s handmade cigars are all made of tobacco.

How much does a good cigar cost these days?

The average cost is $5. It goes as high as $15-$20. You can also get some very nice hand-rolled cigars for around $2.

How about Cubans? They have a reputation for being good, yet illegal.

Their mystique is part of the American attitude about not being able to get what you want to have. The economy in Cuba has been going downhill the last two years, and it continues to do so. The major cigar rollers have fled Cuba, so now I’d say non-Cuban cigars in quality are equal to or better than Cubans these days.

I have to ask: How did the whole Monica Lewinsky thing affect cigar sales?

I am ashamed to say that we brought in some boxes of Monica Lewinsky Cigars, and we sold them out immediately.

She had her own brand?!?

No. A major cigar manufacturer just made some cigars and put a band around them that said something like “Monica Lewinsky: On her knees in the White House.”

What do you see in the future for the cigar biz?

If the government ever repeals the embargo against Cuba, that would create a very big boom. There would still be a black market because of the supply, but I think it would create a boom again.

It’s safe to say then that you are rooting for a lifting of that embargo.

Yeah, why not? Personally, it would help the Cuban economy and people. And a boom would be nice again.