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Cigar Industry Thrived for a Time in Sarasota

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark D. Smith, former County Archivist
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Cigar Industry Thrived for a Time in Sarasota photo

Cigar making has been a tradition in Florida since before the turn of the 20th century. Tampa was well known for its cigar making, having numerous brands name after the city. Today several cigar companies are still headquartered in Tampa.

But Sarasota also played a part in the industry with the development of two cigar factories in the downtown area. Cigar making in Sarasota began in 1911 with the founding of the Sarasota Cigar Company. At Fifth Street (now Golf Street), the Sarasota Cigar Company was a small operation owned by two brothers, John and Jack Hill. The Sarasota Board of Trade, forerunner to the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, was very supportive of the new business and donated quite a bit, including $10 toward building of a factory.

In 1911, the Board of Trade reported that "there was a possibility of having a factory of 200 men at Sarasota." The cigar factory never grew anywhere near that size, but the business was successful. Four to five cigar rollers were employed, and out-of-town orders were being taken.

The Sarasota Times reported on March 9, 1911, that the Sarasota Cigar Company "was encouraged with the amount of business they have had since coming to Sarasota. They manufacture three brands, 'Board of Trade,' 'Sarasota,' and 'Sarasota Gem,' which they sell in stores, and have placed some in Bradentown and Manatee." By the end of 1911, Hill reported that the company had doubled its orders every month since they opened and recently had taken orders for more than 28,000 cigars.

By 1913, the Sarasota Cigar Company was advertising weekly in the Sarasota Times. Three new brands were added: 'Little Dixie,' 'Simpatica,' and 'Havana Smoker'. Using imported Havana blend tobacco and imported wrappers, the cigars proved popular at 5 cents apiece. One 1913 ad stated, "You never see a butt of our cigars lying around. They are smoked as long as there's a whiff in them."

The Sarasota Cigar Company incorporated in 1913 and, by 1914-15, was making 2,000 cigars a day. In 1916, it was announced that the factory was moving to a new location in Sarasota. Instead, it ceased production. It is not clear if the Hill brothers moved to Tampa or sold out. At about the same time the Sarasota Cigar Company stopped production, the Roth brothers began their cigar factory in a different location.

Edward and Michael Roth had been in Sarasota since 1913. In 1917, they began production at 220 Main Street with a factory and a newsstand. In 1920, Edward Roth acquired property on what later became Mira Mar Court, and construction began in 1922 for a separate cigar factory. Finished in 1923, the Roth Cigar Factory continued to produce cigars that were sold for 8 cents apiece and up at Roth's store at 214 Main Street. Roth's store was a newspaper, magazine, cigar, tobacco and confectionary outlet.

Roth continued to use the building until 1938, when the cigar factory was vacated and the newsstand relocated to Pineapple Avenue. By that time, the building's use was listed as "wholesale tobacco" and not as a factory. The factory may have ceased making cigars as early as 1929.

Even though cigars are no longer produced locally, Sarasota's history had a part in the development of the cigar industry. Today the majority of cigars are produced in the Dominican Republic and Honduras. With the recent popularity of cigars, many new cigar retail shops and cigar bars opened in the area, continuing the legacy set by the Sarasota Cigar Company and the Roth Cigar Factory.