Written by Staff

Thursday, 24 April 2008

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tampa humidor

NORTH TAMPA - Dennis Derpes equates smoking a cigar to the pleasure others experience from a sporting activity.

"It's meant strictly for relaxation, like playing golf but without all the time involved," said the Lutz resident who frequently stops to unwind, following a busy day in the real estate business, in the cigar-smoking lounge at Tampa Humidor on East Busch Boulevard.

Owner Mike Howe recently moved his family-owned company from a 4,000-square-foot-building a few blocks away to the new 7,000-square-foot site, complete with a 2,500-square-foot showroom and lounge where smokers are invited to take a load off their feet and watch TV or chat with their like-minded buddies in the overstuffed leather sofas and chairs. They may also sit at the bar or at one of the surrounding tall round tables and chairs and order a bottle of beer, a glass of wine or a cup of espresso. Visitors may also bring along their laptops and do business at a long walnut table in the wireless-equipped lounge.

The building also contains a 2,000-square-foot warehouse and a separate packing and office area.

Howe, however, is especially thrilled to guide guests on a tour of the business's 1,500-square-foot humidor, the largest of its kind in the Southeast, he said.

"It has three large humidifiers, the best that money can by," he said. "It's important that cigars stay at the proper temperature and humidity, so the temperature is always 75 degrees and the humidity is 71 percent."

In it are a myriad of cigars for sale, either individually - priced from $2 to $30 - or by the box. Some of the most popular brands are Fuente, Rocky Patel, CAO, Oliva and Gurkha.

"Some are mild, some are strong, some are spicy, and some are smooth," said Howe, who noted a cigar's taste depends on the kinds of tobaccos used for its filler, binder and wrapper. Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, he added, are the main sources of tobacco used in making cigars.

Also on display in the humidor is an array of table-top and free-standing Spanish cedar humidors ranging in price from $12 to $2,200.

In one corner of the humidor are personalized lockers that rent for $200 a year. Each is meant to be a temperature- and humidity-controlled safe haven for enthusiasts to store cigars.

"Cigars are like fine wines," Howe said. "They won't go bad as long as they are properly stored, and they get better with age."

Another unusual aspect of his business, Howe said, is its discounted prices.

"They are phenomenal," he said. "They are probably the lowest you'll find in the state."

The longtime cigar-loving Howe, who smokes three or four a day and whose nonsmoker wife, Theresa, works with him, started the business as an Internet venture in his Tampa Palms garage about six years ago. They filled and shipped orders only for table-top and free-standing humidors.

"It was good, but unless people wanted to buy a larger humidor, they didn't come back to us," said Howe, whose next progression was to open his first Busch Boulevard storefront facility and expand his inventory to include cigars.

The Internet sales continue to be strong, and they ship cigars and humidors by priority mail all over the world, including to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan at a reduced fee.

Derpes is not only impressed by the cigar store's inventory and ambience but also by the people he has met there. "It's easy to say nice things about nice people, and cigar smokers are nice folks," he said.

Harry Kayian of Valrico, a football coach who travels across the country training kickers and punters, comes to Tampa Humidor as often as he can, sometimes to do a little business on his computer but mainly to enjoy a cigar and the camaraderie of fellow cigar aficionados.

"It's the No. 1 cigar shop around. I've been to many cigar shops in the Tampa Bay area, and this is the best," he said. "It's just a fine place with great people and great cigars."

Steven Finelli of Apollo Beach, a part owner of Tijuana Flats, frequents the shop a couple of times a week.

"They've got a quality place, quality people and quality cigars," he said. "Also, their prices are extremely reasonable."


WHAT: Tampa Humidor

WHERE: 1418 E. Busch Blvd.

WHEN: Open from 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Sunday

INFORMATION: Call (813) 990-8535 or 1-800-990-8535.


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