PASADENA - Anto Kamarian clearly remembers when he smoked his first cigar: It was 1981 in Europe after he saw two locals, cigars in hand, relaxing and enjoying each others' company.
"I saw the expression on their faces, and then I started to budget cuban cigars into my daily budget," he said.
Kamarian, who now smokes six to seven cigars a day, views cigars as a "tool of relaxation."
"I always say, `Give me cigar in my coffin, and I will be happy,"' he said.
Kamarian has transferred his cigar enthusiasm into his Pasadena business, Cigars by Chivas.
"I've always been a believer in the service industry," he said. "When an individual walks in I remember their name. I treat everyone the same way whether they are buying a $7 cigar or a $40 or $50 cigar."
With several seating areas centered around tables with ashtrays, Cigars by Chivas acts as a social gathering place for many customers, Kamarian said.
"The fun part of having this business is the regulars who come in," he said.
One of those regulars is Pasadena resident Don Engle. Engle said he enjoys the socialization aspect of the shop and has also forged many business relationships there as well.
He's found his banker there as well as several clients for the business he works for, Garocco Pool & Landscapes.
"The service (there) is unmatched in the cigar industry," Engle said. "It's a comfortable atmosphere without alcohol involved. It's a nice retreat."
Kamarian immigrated to the U.S. from Beirut, Lebanon, in 1975. He studied economics at Boston University and went on to the University of West Los Angeles, where he earned a law degree.
While he never took the bar, Kamarian worked at an accounting firm and a law firm before opening up Cigars by Chivas, which he did mostly for investment purposes at the time.
Cigars by Chivas opened in 1995 on the corner of DeLacey Avenue and Green Street in Pasadena.
He enjoyed the business so much, he decided to make it his full-time job, he said.
"Pasadena was a place I adored," Kamarian said.
He also thought a cigar shop would be a perfect fit for Old Pasadena, although recently he's become unsure about that match.
The City Council will be hearing a proposed ordinance in May that would restrict smoking in virtually every commercial place, such as the Paseo and Old Pasadena.
Kamarian said he's worried about the encroachment on individual rights as well as the negative impact it will have on his business.
Under the proposed ordinance, "you can't walk around with your cigar in your hand," which is what some of his customers opt to do after buying a cigar at his shop, he said.
"I've always wanted to expand," Kamarian said, but added the anti-smoking movement, heavy taxation and Internet sales are keeping him from growing.
"(Cigar shops) have become an ad agency for new lines of Cuban cigars
," Kamarian said. "Customers come in and try one cigar and go home and buy a whole box online."
Kamarian said that while the business is a tough one to stay in, he plans to stick with selling cigars.
"Do I intend to stay in this business? Absolutely. Do I intend to put up a fight about our rights? Absolutely."
Kamarian lives in Chatsworth with his wife and two children, ages 14 and 11.