Taxes not snuffing out cigar sales in Vail Valley
VAIL VALLEY – The rich smells of cedar and tobacco hang in the slightly thick air inside the walk-in humidor at Avon Liquor. The walls of the small room display shelves full of fragrant cigars, ranging from a single $20 Cohiba to an inexpensive pack of Dutch Masters.
Spring is cigar season, and very soon, customers will be rolling through local shops picking up various sticks to complement golf games and evenings spent sipping cognac and other libations, enjoying springtime in the mountains.
Despite higher taxes on tobacco products and fewer places that allow smoking, cigars are as popular as ever in the Vail Valley.
Matt Austin, of Beaver Liquors, said he’s been at that shop for six years and cigar sales have increased every year, with last year being the biggest year for sales. Bryant Bowlby, cigar manager at Avon Liquor, said his sales have also been strong.
There hasn’t been “too much of a drop in anything” as far as cigar sales since the new taxes kicked in, Bowlby said.
Bowlby said that it’s still too early in the spring season to see cigar trends compared with last year, but from what he has seen so far, sales haven’t been affected by tax increases or smoking bans. Jim Lay, coordinator of the annual cigar seminar at the Taste of Vail, said price wouldn’t keep him from enjoying a good cigar anyway.
“I buy a good cigar like I would buy a bottle of wine because I like them and not necessarily because of the cost,” said Lay, an Eagle resident.
The taxes have gotten pretty steep, though. After tax, two $3 cigars come to $12. These taxes, and the down economy, have sent some people looking for more value when shopping for their tobacco products, Bowlby said. Customers are more inclined to buy packs of cigars, rather than one or two expensive choices. Despite that, there are still those who can afford to splurge on a smoky treat.
“Not everyone can afford a $12 or $13 cigar,” Bowlby said. “But you still have those guys heading up to Cordillera who like the premiums.”
Bowlby said cigar sales typically slow in the winter, as people have fewer places to smoke them due to Colorado state laws against smoking indoors in public places.
“Tourists will come in and pick up a few sticks. They ask, ‘Where can you go smoke around here?”‘ Austin said. His answer? “Nowhere; outside in that blizzard.”
A few people will still brave the cold, though. When people are on vacation, they do the things they want to do that they wouldn’t normally do when at home, Austin said. This includes the simple joy of puffing away on a nice, fat cigar.
“They will grab a stogy and head up to Beaver Creek or Arrowhead and sit by the fire and kick back,” Austin said.
Austin said tourists and locals alike are looking for more boutique and small-production cigars, rather than the big-name, mass-produced varieties. Another challenge is keeping cigars fresh at high altitude.
“I enjoy keeping them at my house and maintaining them at elevation, which is difficult. A good humidor definitely requires some upkeep,” Lay said.
Knowledge of cigars is rapidly disappearing; most customers need to be educated about different types, and most are looking for a smooth, easy-to-smoke recommendation, Austin said. Lay said the trends in cigars have changed in the past few decades.
“What I’ve seen in trends is during the mid-’90s, there was a big trend toward cigars,” he said. “That trendiness has died down a little bit. It’s a bit back to culinarians and aficionados of the good life – if you’re going to have a nice, big meal, to finish it up with a good cigar.”
Cigar sales will begin to pick up soon as the spring sunshine entices golfers to head out onto the links and locals to spend more time on outdoor patios.
“I usually enjoy a cigar when I’m playing poker or when I’m golfing or when I’m relaxing, maybe camping,” Lay said.
“To just sit and smoke a cigar is relaxing for me. I especially enjoy them in the summertime when you can enjoy them outside. You have this great, clean air that you can balance it off with. It’s definitely a treat.”
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