After longtime Napa tobacconist and retailer Baker Street Downtown closed in early 2013, cigar lovers looking to light up in downtown Napa had been out of luck.
Not anymore. Tobacco shop Napa Cigars recently opened on First Street, and just a stone’s throw from the old Baker Street shop.
“Napa Cigars is a return to the neighborhood tobacconist,” said business partner and shop manager Eric Smaldino.
Smaldino recently moved to California from Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he managed Tobacco Road, a cigar shop well-known in Wyoming. The owner of that store is Brady Hayek, Smaldino’s business partner in Napa Cigars. Hayek lives in San Diego.
When Smaldino told Hayek he was looking to move to California — Smaldino’s wife is from the East Bay — the two decided to open a second cigar shop, this time in Napa.
“Cigars and pipes are what we know and do,” said Smaldino.
As for choosing Napa, Smaldino said he was drawn the small-town feel and rural nature of the area.
Besides that, “there wasn’t a cigar store downtown — but there had been — so that lead me to believe the town could support it,” he said.
After a short search, Smaldino said he discovered that a bike tour business almost across the street from the former Baker Street was about to leave its downtown location. The shop was a good fit for the cigar store idea, and after signing a lease in late November, work began in February, said Smaldino.
“Anybody who saw the space before wouldn’t believe it was the same one,” he said. “We did a lot with it. We put in wood floors and painted. It had a skylight that was covered up and we exposed that.” They also exposed a mezzanine area which now has chairs, a TV and poker tables.
“Its like a lounge,” said Smaldino.
A ventilation system was added, along with better lighting, wifi, three televisions and a sound system. “We also have air exchanges that allow fresh air to come in,” he noted.
Smaldino said his goal was to create a “welcoming place to smoke, lounge and savor the day. This is a place where the novice and aficionado alike will each find a cigar for their tastes and enjoy excellent customer service,” he said.
“We have a great selection of cigars, from the classics to some smaller boutique brands and hard to find stuff,” Smaldino added. Additionally, “we have the knowledge about every cigar and the ability to find the right cigar that someone is asking for even if they don’t know what they want. The shop also sells its own pipe tobacco blends, said the shop manager.
Smaldino said that prices for cigars range $2.55 to $36. The average price is about $9 to $10, he said. The $36 cigar is a “Padron” from Nicaragua, he said.
Currently, his most popular is the “Ashton Cabinet” from the Dominican Republic. “The wrapper leaf is actually grown in Connecticut.” He said. That cigar is $12.30.
While his cigars come from a variety of countries including Nicaragua and others, he is not able to sell Cuban cigars, said Smaldino. “Not while that embargo is in place.”
In the course of opening, the business owner also contacted former Baker Street owner Brenda Roberts, he said.
“We got advice” from Roberts and other tips about doing business in downtown Napa, he said. Some of that advice centered on when to open and how late to stay open. For now, the business will open at 11 a.m. and stay open later on the weekends.
“Being open early doesn’t seem to amount to too much,” said Smaldino, noting that next door neighbor Naked Wines typically isn’t open in the mornings. However, “I think that will change as downtown revitalizes itself,” he said.
Smaldino wouldn’t say how long his lease was, only to note that it was “long enough to make me comfortable. We’re in this for the long haul. We’re not going anywhere,” he said.