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John and Matt on Cigars

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

John – “Draper’s Tobacconist has been in D.C. for 122 years. In fact, it is one of the oldest tobacconists in the nation. It has always been employee owned and operated. I’ve owned this place for ten years now. Matt has been my partner here for the last four. Before this, I worked in the coffee business in D.C. I came to cigars when I was having one of those days in the coffee business where I was either going to go out and get drunk or start smoking cigarettes. As I was walking out of my office, I passed a cigar store and thought that was a perfect compromise. The relaxation and peace of mind of a cigar put me in another place for an hour. From that moment on, I was hooked to that feeling. As I continued to smoke cigars, I started to meet other folks who smoked them. There is a camaraderie among cigar smokers that I have not experienced anywhere else. You can walk in here on any given day and find a Senator talking to a bike courier covered in tattoos and torn up clothes. But, for ten minutes, they are equals. They are just two people smoking and talking about what they like and don’t like about the cigar. Cigars level the playing field like nothing else I have seen in D.C. The cigar really is the great communicator.

Look, Obama is a known smoker, but you never see him with a cigarette in his mouth.

“You ask any of our customers and they will say that Matt and I have the best jobs in the world. In a sense, we do. A lot of people describe this as Cheers without the booze. You can come in, take a seat, have a cigar and relax. This is one of the few remaining places where you can still smoke indoors. That is because 75% of our sales are in tobacco, which makes it legal to smoke in here. You know, I really do love it here. I have always needed to interact with people. I have had desk jobs and jobs where I wore suits and they never fit my personality. It wasn’t until I stumbled in here one day as a customer and got to know all of the guys who worked here that I realized this was the business for me.”

Matt – “D.C. has always been a big cigar town. There has always been this romantic notion around power and cigars here. You used to see the power brokers sitting at some of the big D.C. restaurants smoking cigars, drinking martinis and eating a steak. That changed with the smoking ban and the reforms to lobbying in this town. Still, there are certain members up on the Hill who enjoy a good cigar. Actually, one of the remaining safe havens for smokers is in the personal offices of Senators and Congressmen. So, we regularly get staffers coming down to get cigars for their bosses. These days, people are very cognizant of the public’s response to smoking. If you are seen as enjoying smoking as an adult, especially as a politician, it is perceived as a negative even though it is not illegal. Look, Obama is a known smoker, but you never see him with a cigarette in his mouth. It’s an image thing. Now, with the FDA regulating tobacco and all of the tax issues surrounding smoking, eventually a lot of people would like to see smoking go away all together. We have been in D.C. for 122 years and have seen a lot of history. We think we serve an important role for this city.”

Read about the history of W. Curtis Draper Tobacco here.

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