The Rise of the Cigar Lounge
Frederick’s economy isn’t some finely tuned watch, where springs pump in precision with wheels and levers. Nor is it like a puzzle in which all the pieces fit together, seamlessly and conveniently. The local economy is much more organic—with new businesses often growing, receding, succeeding and failing with seemingly no bearing or consequence on others.
Take, for example, the blooming cigar business in the county. Beyond demographic trends and socioeconomic voodoo is the simple fact that there are more and more places to buy cigars here. Welcome to Free Market 101. While there are several “classrooms” in the county—the many stores and tobacco shops where you can find a fine cigar —there are two main campuses: the established Davidus Cigars, with locations in Urbana and South Street, and the newcomer Quartermasters Cigars, perched behind the Family Meal restaurant on East Street.
And like any corner of capitalism where two names dominate a market—think Coke and Pepsi or Apple and Microsoft—the owners of Davidus and Quartermasters are watching the other carefully, perhaps warily. They know each other’s products, services and clientele. It’s hard not to keep your eye on the other guy when you compete for customers, smokers and dollars. But they are not engaged in open combat; after all, both sides enjoy a good, often-premium cigar and are in the business of providing that singular pleasure to their customers, of which there appear to be plenty. They are dedicated to promoting a lifestyle that celebrates the finer things in life, so they insist they square off only as gentlemen.
Brothers David and Stephen Castro have their fingers on the pulse of the cigar industry in the state of Maryland. The owners of Davidus Cigars maintain their two locations in Frederick County and have a handful of other stores in the state. Raised in Montgomery County, the brothers have crisscrossed the state since 1996, building their stores and offering products with regional as well as national appeal. They offer premium cigars from Padron, Bandolero, Atabey, Diamond Crown and others, as well as their own brand of cigars and pipe tobacco with names such as Castro Brothers, Breakfast Bliss, Lord Baltimore and Robert Small Little. Stephen Castro says he and his brother continue to experiment with flavors, textures and blends because their clients are adventurous. “Americans are willing to try new things. Not so true in other countries,” he says.
While they are bold in developing new products, the Castros’ business approach is careful and methodical. Stephen says that cigar smokers are not necessarily growing in numbers but asserts that those who appreciate his company’s innovative products and excellent service continue to come back for more. That is how he grows the business. The brothers are very brand-conscious and carefully appoint their Diamond Crown Lounges with leather chairs, tables, book cases and a large flat-screen TV. They invite their customers to bring in their own food and beverages along with the cigars they purchase from the walk-in humidor. Lockers are available to store products. “We are measured in what we do,” says Stephen. Expansions and new store openings are carefully planned and market research is ongoing.
When not creating new products, they pay close attention to the ever-changing regulatory environment. Stephen Castro says the state’s laws and restrictions regarding tobacco products are harsh and that some counties are more conducive to doing business than others. “I stay on top of the rules and regulations and it isn’t easy,” he says. David Castro says they maintain their positive business attitude because, “This is a passion for us. We can’t wait to come in, in the morning. [Cigar smoking] is the world’s greatest fraternity.”
They are quick to point out, however, that while most clients are male they do have several regular female customers. They stress that all are welcome and they maintain that they have a diverse client base, from business executives to construction workers. David Castro adds, “Our business is welcoming to our customers. We sell them exactly what they want and offer everything they need,” to enjoy a good cigar.
new kid in town
To be sure, Davidus has dominated the greater Maryland and local cigar marketplace for nearly two decades. But someone else is betting that this town is big enough for another lounge. “I’ve always thought there are plenty of cigar smokers in Frederick to go around,” said Ed Kober, owner of the newly minted Quartermasters Cigars located at 880 East Street. He opened his business Super Bowl Sunday this year and says he hopes new clients find his place to be comfortable and convenient. Kober is optimistic that the East Street neighborhood is going to see a major construction boom, bringing in new businesses and drawing new customers. He already gets regular foot traffic from diners at the nearby Family Meal.
Cigar enthusiasts can find premium products such as Padron, Bandolero, Cubanacan, Ashton and others, and can enjoy them in the spacious lounge or on the outdoor patio. Quartermasters is membership driven and it is never too late in the day to enjoy a cigar and some good company. Even after the cash register shuts down for the night, members can stay late. Some have 24-hour access to the lounge and its five big screen TVs. Membership packages come in gold, platinum and corporate, with annual fees starting at $249. (See www.quartermasters.com for details.)
On a recent morning, Brian Burden enjoys a cigar while working on his laptop. A salesman who “likes to get out of the house,” Burden says he starts his work day off at Quartermasters a couple of times a week. He also comes by to socialize with other members. “I genuinely enjoy the people I meet here,” Burden says. “The lounge is social, relaxing and tasteful.”
The facility is a converted car dealership service bay and the lounge is 1,780 square feet. There are chairs, couches and a pool table for recreation. Those who are mixing business with pleasure find charging stations, a printer, fax machine and scanner. The retail showroom is an additional 550 square feet. Lockers are available for cigar storage. Kober says he can accommodate private functions and will actively market that feature to members and outside groups.
And so, the Castros and Kober open the doors to their shops and lounges for another day. Their customers find comfort and enjoyment with their old standards and some new products and happily blow smoke rings into the air. For more information, contact: Davidus Cigars, 529 W. South St., 301-662-6606, www.davidus.com; and Quartermasters Cigars, 880 N. East Street, 301-898-2134, www.quartermasterscigars.com.