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Cigar bar owner says social ambience attracts patrons

An interestingly sweet aroma engulfed two 30-something women who sat on a sofa sipping wine inside Fletcher's Cigar Bar & Social club in Ormond Beach.
The aroma was from their cigars. As they puffed on "Irish Creme" and "Blondie" flavored cigars, their smoke disappeared quickly, although the scents lingered.
"It calms me down. There's no pressure here. It's total relaxation," said one of the women, Ormond Beach skin-care specialist Karen Riva. "It has a lot of class." The other woman added: "It's sophisticated."
A few feet away at the bar, local Realtor Al Wilson ordered a beer layered with dark and light brews topped with creamy foam - a black-and-tan - which stayed separated as he sipped. From his choice cigar wafted a spicy aroma. Wilson's smoke also vanished quickly.
"I have three ionic smoke ventilators, in addition to a 10-ton air conditioner for 1,250 square feet," said Bill Fletcher, a 30-year-old entrepreneur who owns the trendy establishment at 1220 Hand Ave.
He opened the cigar bar last April and said business is brisk and estimates about 30 percent of his customers are women.
Although a new federal tobacco tax kicks in on April 1, Fletcher doesn't think his business or clientele will be affected by the extra cost.
"My business model is the social aspect of cigars, beer and wine. Casual cigar smokers come in more for the social experience," Fletcher said. "They will find something in their price range."
The cigars range from $3.25 to $33, he said.
He doesn't think "people who are coming in for a cigar and a drink are going to give it up over 49 cents." Customers come to watch one of four big-screen TVs or hang out with friends and listen to live jazz played at the baby grand piano in the corner on a Saturday night.
And there's a room across from the bar where people can have a party or a meeting and use a 92-inch computer-friendly plasma TV/video screen.
Adjacent to the party room is "The Humidor," a Spanish-cedar-lined room housing 300 different cigar types, with its own humidifying system to hold a perfect 70 degrees and an ideal 70-percent humidity. Also, a wall of members' individual humidor lockers is vented into the room, Fletcher said.
The place was his idea.
The 1996 Seabreeze High School graduate works full time for the Ladies Professional Golf Association. He leveraged two investment properties to finance the cigar shop - and also to finance the auto repair business his father runs, Fletcher Seaside Automotive (Ormond-by-the-Sea) - where the two rebuilt a 1989-vintage Mustang together.
"He is one of the best time managers that I have ever seen," Bob Fletcher said of his son. "He budgets time for family, his work, his sidelines and the bar thing."
The "bar thing" being, of course, the cigar shop, a pet project for Bill Fletcher because he himself is a cigar smoker.
"I do smoke cigars, and there were no places to go and smoke inside. You are usually pushed to a patio," the younger Fletcher said.
Rex Snyder of Palm Coast, a cigar distributor who covers all of Florida - 800 to 1,000 miles each week - said Fletcher came to him to talk about the business when the shop was still just an idea.
"He's put together a very warm, inviting atmosphere," said Snyder, who visits more than 280 shops on his sales rounds. "His business model is unique when compared to the other shops across the state."
Things are different for Robert and Angie Wright, owners of Fast Lane Tobacco, a drive-through retail tobacco shop that includes beer and soda. They think the new federal tax and a proposed state tobacco tax will adversely affect their to-go business.
"We are worried about the economy and the new Obama (tobacco) tax," said Angie Wright. The Kentucky native said her dad had a drive-through tobacco business there, but when she and her family moved here, they didn't find any such drive-through shops.
"I am a smoker and it wasn't comfortable leaving my three kids in the car to go in and get a pack of cigarettes," she said. So the 37-year-old, with 38-year-old husband Robert, decided they would start their own business.
They chose 838 N. Ridgewood Ave., Daytona Beach, which has had many incarnations - the one they hear about most was when the building housed "Gary's chicken," Angie said.
The bumped-up price from the added federal tax will slow smokers' purchases, she said. And a proposed $1 per pack tax by the state could also be detrimental to business.

Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal