Cigar News

Famous Smoke Shop Withdraws from 2020 PCA Trade Show

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An Open Letter to the Premium Cigar Industry

I want the industry to know why you will not be seeing me or my company at this year’s trade show.

This is not a decision that’s been made lightly or quickly, as I have wrestled with this idea for quite some time. My first trade show goes way back to 1970, when it was held in NYC in the Statler Hilton Hotel on 7th Avenue. For those of you who still remember, the “show” was held in small rooms or suites. The individual deals and negotiating were done in the bedroom – I kid you not. Many of the vendors I once knew are now out of business or dead, so it is with fondness and sadness that I look back to those days prior to the Cigar Boom. As a side note, I sat down at the 1991 show with Marvin Shanken. It was the only time I ever got anything from that man…lunch was on him. The magazine had not yet been published, and he wanted a donation: my mailing list. I won’t go into the details of the negotiation, but he did not get it. I have only spoken to Marvin since that time on two more occasions. Both were equally unpleasant.

I have watched how our industry’s trade show has evolved over the last 50 years. I have paid my dues every year and cannot calculate how much money I have spent going to the shows and supporting the RTDA/IPCPR/PCA. However – not once in those 50 years has anyone from the trade organization ever returned the support or taken time to understand my business, or this segment of the retail market.

Instead, I – and other members of this group – are treated as pariahs by the very same organization we have tirelessly supported. Because according to the PCA, we internet retailers are the enemy. We are the cause of declining sales at B&M’s. Not the fact that a fair share of retailers choose to remain complacent, relying on last century’s technology and the deeper pockets of others to fight their battles for them. No, it’s our fault: catalog and internet-managed companies are destroying the industry, preying on “the little guy.” Oh, if only if we would disappear – then money would rain down like manna.

This logic would be funny, if it weren’t so misinformed. Or dare I say, ignorant. My company has maintained a B&M store for every day we’ve been in business – over 80 years and counting, and well before that terminology even existed. I struggled with excise taxes in New York State back before the Cigar Boom started, and you could still enjoy a cigar on an airline flight. NYC was a tough place and J&R cigars was only 5 blocks away. Yes, we competed – hard.

Famous Smoke Shop 80th anniversary cigars guide Famous Smoke Shop in New York City's Garment District circa 1980s
Famous Smoke Shop’s brick & mortar home in New York City’s Garment District, circa 1980s.

But I saw way back what was needed to survive. There were only a few of us around: Thompson Cigar (which has since been acquired), JR Cigars (acquired), Holt’s (partially acquired), Mike’s Cigars (private), and Famous Smoke Shop (private). Cigars International was not even an embryo. All of us knew one thing for sure: we needed to make the country our marketplace. In various ways we were all successful in our endeavors. We survived pre-Internet days, then we adapted again to new digital technology. The road was difficult and expensive. New technology requires new personnel and significant investments, and some of us are still in the process of adapting to the new environment.

I, and other members of our small circle, have been very active in support of various efforts to reduce or eliminate cigar taxation and regulation. Not once, in the 50 years that I have been in this business, have I in any way encouraged any entity to increase regulation or taxation on my B&M brethren. Not once have I ever pursued a cause that would hurt any part of this industry which I have loved. I have fought against all forms of tobacco regulation and taxation, whether it affected me or not. I have contributed money and time to the CRA, CAA, and PCA.

But no longer. I cannot continue to support the PCA, an organization so far out of touch with the reality of the current market. I am tired of supporting those who seek to damage my business to increase their own.  Recently this all came to light when I learned that the PCA spent time and money to increase taxes on cigars. Yes! Under the banner of a “level playing field”, the PCA lobbied to increase taxes, but only on remote sellers like me. So here you have a hypocritical organization, which is out to hurt and/or destroy a part of the industry. Why? We are not your enemy. Your business will not be better if we disappear. Prices will skyrocket and few will be able to afford $12-$20 cigars.

I want the industry to know why I made this decision. I want my suppliers to know why I will not be visiting with them in Las Vegas for the first time in 50 years: the PCA’s course of action is not acceptable, and encourage my suppliers to contact the Board of the PCA to let them know that. I write this in the hope that other organizations will also decide not to attend the 2020 PCA show. I have often used the “Titanic” metaphor: we are all on the Titanic fighting for higher berths. Yeah, a house divided and all that stuff. I will reward those vendors who support my company, both Internet/Catalog and B&M. The names I mentioned are not the problem – organizations like the PCA are the problem, too busy fighting for higher berths. I had the foresight to leave New York State and move to Pennsylvania, where I have joined with my competitors to battle issues that are more important than my petty dislikes. I wish that were true of the retailer segment. I survived because I was smart and persistent. I will continue to survive and prosper without spending all that time and money attending PCA in 2020.

My decision to quit the show was made before I heard their news, but I applaud the decision of Drew Estate, Altadis, General Cigar, Davidoff and Villiger to withdraw from the show; while they have their own reasons, it’s clear these companies have come to the same conclusion about the PCA that I have. I suggest some of you reading this do the same. 

 

Arthur Zaretsky

Famous Smoke Shop President/CEO

27 Comments
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Thomas Rendon aka Big T
3 years ago

Good for you for standing up for what you believe in. I applaud your success and all that you stand for.

Mark Bradley
3 years ago

I support your decision. Have not purchased from you before but think I will be very soon.

Larry silba
3 years ago

Interesting

Paul Schuett
3 years ago

Finally, a man and company with principles.

Paul Schuett
3 years ago

Finally. A man and HIS company are fed up with the PCA.

Ed Galinsky
3 years ago

Arthur
As long time cigar smoker and a supporter of your business I deem you stand and statement totally universal. For years I was one of your catalog customers. Then one day I realized that the drive from my home to Forks is less than I do at work in any given day. The Team you have is the best. Their knowledge and Ultimate Customer Service is is unsurpassed. The internet an online stores are mechanical not real.
Thank you and as President Teddy Roosevelt would say “Bully for You”
Ed Galinsky

JMG
3 years ago

Good for you! I will be placing an order in a day or two!

Brian
3 years ago

Old world mindset that is mad that the world has change and refuse to change with it. Get with the times or go out of business. Good for you for not attending, they can pound sand and have a nice event with empty halls.

Nic Sumpter
3 years ago

Good for you and all the other companies pulling out. Putting your money where your mouth is and hurting the pocket books of those who seek to destroy the cigar industry.

Charlie Stivali
3 years ago

Bravo, Arthur. I am proud to call myself a Famius Smoke customer for more than 15 years. Your staff has always been exceptionally good to me and I value their expertise if I ever have a question. While I might not be able to shop in the store in person these days, I will continue to consider Famius Smoke my go-to provider for my cigar wants, needs and desires. Thank you.

Dennis Johnston
3 years ago

Well said! You have a new customer from here on out, ME! Please continue to fight the good fight. Good luck.

Dennis Johnston
3 years ago

Extremely well said and I applaud you for saying it. You now have a new customer, ME.

Michael K. Riviera
3 years ago

I support you 100%.

Carl Mayberry
3 years ago

Well said, I applaud your decision

Tom Kuhn
3 years ago

Good for you. it really is a shame that people can’t get along and help each other out. I remember while in school learning about machine shops helping each other solve problems.

Steve Moon
3 years ago

What many of the B&M only supporters don’t realize is many of us don’t have reasonable access to B&M’s. Famous Smoke and a select few others who offer online service are a lifesaver for me. I shop at B&Ms whenever I can but here in VT they are far and in between. Thank You for all you do.

Michael D Mould
3 years ago

You are absolutely right. I went to B&M stores to buy my cigars. Then when the boom came I could no longer afford the higher prices. Now to savor my cigars I buy on line for the price, service & convenience ( which has also increased over the years) but if things keep going as they are I will soon be unable to enjoy a relaxing smoke. Keep up the good fight and if my go to brand (Arturo Fuente) backs out because of your stance I will change my brand.

Debbie Palombo
3 years ago

I loved reading this great article, Arthur. I totally understand your position. It was interesting to read about your recollections and your sentiments about how the industry has changed.

Paulie
3 years ago

Been a customer since June 2019 and have no complaints. Good for you for pulling out!

Dave O'Neill
3 years ago

Kudos to you Art. I am 100% in support of your position and shall remain so.

Gary Wassmuth
3 years ago

As someone that worked in retail b&m cigar shop I always believed there was enough business out there for everyone. Some people don’t understand that when you let loose any part of taxation on anyone it is going to hit everyone. When they start they don’t give it back! You stand your ground!!

Chris Ludlow
3 years ago

Well said Arthur!

Howard
3 years ago

I agree. I have been with you since the early days at the old shop behind the Easton Coach.

Howard
3 years ago

I agree! I have with you since the old days at the previous building. We are a family and we work for the good of all.

Rick Nagle
3 years ago

Well said Arthur. I stand behind you and your company 100%. I am a loyal Famous B&M customer and plan to remain so.

Steve
3 years ago

Arthur,
Thank you for speaking up. As an avid smoker, internet sales are a key part of my purchases and allow easy access to new brands.
Famous Smokes is a great site and I like your new magazine PRIMINGS.

Daniel Hixson
2 years ago

I totally support you and your decisions Mr. Zaretsky. Good for you. You will always have my continued business. Famous Smoke is the absolute best cigar website out there. You make cigars I could not afford at other businesses available to an average guy like me with your sales and discounts. Keep up the good fight. Good luck and God Bless. Thank You so much.
Daniel Hixson

Arthur Zaretsky

Arthur Zaretsky

Owner and CEO of Famous Smoke Shop, Arthur Zaretsky has been running “the family business” since 1978. Under his direction, Famous Smoke Shop has grown from a modest Manhattan storefront to the nation’s most successful, privately-owned online cigar retailer. His 40+ years of experience, straightforward personality, and willingness to share his expertise with others, have made him one of the most respected businessmen in the cigar industry.

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