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A cigar shop for cigar lovers

SUTTONS BAY — Joe Barrera fell in love with Leelanau County more than 40 years ago when he visited as a youngster.

"I've been coming up here since I was a kid,” recalled the former Flint resident. "I was a cherry picker.”

When he retired from Delphi Corp. in 2004, Barrera, 58, decided to launch his own business — Leelanau Cigar Co. — based on a lifelong love of smoking cigars.

Barrera's eclectic shop is tucked along Front Street, which is really more of an alley, snug along the waterfront, just north of Suttons Bay's marina. He's filled the place with cigars of all types and ring gauges, humidors, cigar cutters, lighters, elegant cigar ashtrays and other tobacco-related items.

It's a comfortable place, complete with a couch, several chairs, soft drinks, snacks and reading material.

"This place is sort of a refuge,” he said. "We have regular cigar nights, usually Thursdays, when we get three or four guys in here. We invite folks to stop by for a coffee and to enjoy a smoke.”

Since opening last July, Barrera built a small cadre of regulars who stop by every couple of weeks to pick up their favorite smokes.

In addition to stocking more than 1,000 cigars, including the most popular labels, such as Davidoff, Montecristo, Rocky Patel and Ashton, Barrera produces his private Leelanau Cigar brand of sticks, a tasty, mild smoke flavored with Black Star Farms cherry or apple brandy.

"Last year I visited our daughter who lives in Sacramento,” said Barrera. "While there, I stopped by the local cigar shop and met two Cubans, father Pedro and son Pierre Perales, who rolled their own cigars and were looking for distributors.”

Barrera and the Peraleses worked out an agreement for the Cubans to provide hand-rolled smokes under the Leelanau Cigar label. The Black Star Farms brandy is used to flavor each leaf of the cigar as it is rolled.

Barrera's cigars are stocked in a few locations in Leelanau County, including the Leelanau Sands Casino, Barrels & Barrels party store and the Silvertree Deli. He plans to expand his distribution this summer by visiting area festivals, including the National Cherry Festival, Wine Festival and Cedar Polka Festival.

"I assure a quality product and my prices are very reasonable,” he said. "We're out to make friends, not gouge anybody.”

Source: Traverse City Record Eagle