September 7, 2016
I was making wooden products for the home and office in the seventies, eighties and into the mid nineties. I participated in 30 to 40 art and craft shows a year. I traveled extensively throughout the East, from Boston to Miami and as far west as Kansas City and Madison, Wisconsin. Most of these events were weekend shows. So I was traveling and doing shows 4 or 5 days a week throughout the year. We made kitchen items such as a full line of laminated cutting boards, salt and pepper shakers, rolling pins, butcher block tables, etc. Probably 30 or 40 items. Then in the mid eighties we added a desk accessory line as well. So now I was carrying over fifty multiple items to each show and had about 15 employees helping me make several runs at a time. In the late eighties we added a line of jewelry boxes as the desk accessory line was fading.
In December of ‘95 I did a show in New York City at Columbia University sponsored by WBAI Radio Station. It was a fund raiser for them. Several ladies came up to my booth asking for cigar humidors. My jewelry boxes apparently looked similar to a hand crafted humidor. I had never heard of cigar humidors and inquired. One lady told me to go visit Nat Sherman’s tobacco shop on Madison Ave, so the next morning before the show opened I went to visit the Nat Sherman store. I expected a news stand type of store, but I was shocked upon seeing a very up scale store with a spiral staircase, exotic oriental rugs, mahogany display stands and employees in suits and ties. This was the mecca for high quality cigar humidors.
Now after 20 years of doing shows I was getting burnt out and knew that I could not continue doing the shows if I wanted to stay in good health. Carrying 60 pound boxes – as many as 25 to 40 boxes- to each show, loading and unloading 4 times a show, was very hard on my back. I was in good physical shape, but I knew that sooner or later it would catch up with me.
So I returned to my hotel room before the show and got out a phone book to see how many tobacconists there were in the New York city area. I was shocked to see three pages probably representing 30 to 40 stores some of which I am sure were news stand stores. Being naïve I assumed that all large cities had this many stores. But when I returned home after the show and researched the Baltimore/Washington D. C. areas I only found three. So I called the first one on the list, Georgetown Tobacco, and spoke with David Berkebile, the owner. He invited me down to his store and the rest is history. We became good friends. He became my mentor so to speak and introduced me to his fellow store owners in other parts of the US. When I went to the annual cigar and pipe trade show in Orlando that year, there were plenty of orders to be taken. Within a year I stopped doing craft shows and focused only on making a full line of premium cigar humidors. And believe me it was a challenging learning curve.
My inspiration comes from the beautiful exotic hardwood veneers and solid woods that I am fortunate to be able to use. No other product shows off these fancy woods as well as a wooden humidor or jewelry box. But the personal humidors have a very strong advantage over a jewelry box. Women keep their boxes in their bedrooms and no one ever sees them except maybe a few special friends. This is why you hardly ever see jewelry boxes sold in a jewelry store. Handcrafted humidors however are out in front and on display. Cigar smoking has always been done by men in social gatherings, in clubs, bars, golf courses, fishing, business meetings and after a good meal out. Quality humidors are always there on display with a variety of cigars to choose from. The main challenge today is obtaining the woods which are becoming more difficult to obtain and more expensive. Also I have lost several good suppliers in the last few years – mostly due to the recession in 2008. Many product suppliers to the wood industry have suffered greatly or have gone out of business. My finishing supplier of lacquers and stains went out of business several years ago. It took me over a year to find, test and be able to use a new supplier with similar materials.
I enjoy the building process the most in the final finishing and assembly steps. This is when the beautiful exotic woods come to life so-to-speak, especially in the finishing process when the wood grains and colors are highlighted with the lacquer finish.
As far as customer service goes, I have been doing this for over 20 years now, so I have heard most of the questions that people are concerned about. My philosophy has always been to make products that sell themselves with little fanfare or hype. “If you build it right, the market will come to you” – a quote from the original Firestone dynasty. It is as true today as it was back in the early 1900’s. It is quality, not quantity that makes the difference. I am currently working on a new line of small cigar carrying cases which I have designed in collaboration with a customer. I will soon have them on my website. It is this kind of challenge that I enjoy and that drives me to continue making the best humidors I can. I feel very fortunate to have had this remarkable career – not job – on the same property where I live.
Finally I want to end by stating a fact that is so obvious but often times forgotten. Mostly thanks to my wife, Alice, for supporting me in my business, family and home. She does all the bookkeeping, pays the bills, cooks the food, cleans the house and yes, she even cuts my hair! I hate barbershops. Also thanks to the Great Maker of my “hardwood children” who provide me with the many varieties of wonderful and beautiful wood species which I gaze upon frequently out of love and respect. Without them, none of this would be possible. They all have unique histories, come from every corner of this planet, speak different languages, have different personalities – some are trouble makers, and I have to scold them on a daily basis, but they are what they are, and I take pride in creating with them and caring for them.