Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Business

Ybor City cigar shop, jazz club back in business after Amphitheatre fire

TAMPA — Before the nightclub next door burned and water flooded their Ybor City cigar shop, the Ogando family was already dealing with a far greater tragedy.

Mayra Ogando, a co-owner of Nicahabana Cigars on Seventh Avenue, died of cancer at age 51 on April 5. A day later, the Amphitheatre nightclub caught fire. Firefighters doused the blaze for more than six hours.

A lot of that water poured into Nicahabana, ruining seven bundles of tobacco leaves worth $7,000 and shuttering the shop for three days.

But after watching the fire rage just beyond the store's eastern wall, the family expected far worse.

"She helped us out," Yordany Ogando said Wednesday of his late mother, convinced her spirit was watching over the business her family started in 2009.

Except for the Amphitheatre and its boarded up shell, the businesses on the 1600 block of Seventh, in the heart of Ybor, have returned to some sense of normalcy after the fire forced them to close.

Most businesses were open within a day or two after engineers did an inspection. But the businesses on either side of the Amphitheatre — Nicahabana and the Ybor City Jazz House — took longer as they grappled with water or smoke damage.

The Ogandos reopened April 9. The Jazz House reopened Thursday night, with a slight smoky odor lingering.

Jazz House owner Eric Fleming said it would be there until the ashes and debris next door are cleaned out. But he said his clothes passed the "smoke test," meaning no one is going to leave the club smelling like they stepped out of a fire.

"Everything you step on or touch on in here has been cleaned," he said.

From the street, the jazz club appears to share a wall with the Amphitheatre, but there is a roughly 12-inch gap between the buildings that helped keep the flames from spreading and water from seeping in, Fleming said.

Many of the surfaces are wood and concrete, which is less porous and easier to clean than drywall. Items with fabric surfaces, such as couches and curtains, had to be cleaned or replaced.

On Wednesday, the bright green vans of a cleaning company lined the curb in front of the club. Crews brought in foggers that sprayed a citrus-scented deodorizer to tamp down the smoky odor.

By 9 p.m. Thursday, Fleming was relieved to once again see people mingling inside the club he started running in 2013.

"It's been a very crazy week," he said. "I went through every emotion from horror to sadness to depression to optimism to another level of stress."

For the Ogandos, the stress of closing and cleaning up the shop compounded the sorrow of Mayra Ogando's death. The family had to juggle the cleanup effort with the task of planning Mayra's funeral last weekend.

In addition to 31-year-old Yordany, Mayra and her husband, Manuel, have a 12-year-old son.

"The fire aggravated the emotions and what they were feeling, but the loss of Mayra is the focus of the family," said Joe Gonzalez, an attorney and family friend.

The family patriarch Rodoberto Galban started making cigars in Cuba some five decades ago. In 2009, he realized his dream of opening a shop. Their first store was on Seventh a few blocks east of the current location.

Galban died in 2011. The Ogandos moved to the 1600 block about four years ago.

The water soaked the shop's televisions, computer and other office equipment and ruined all of the wooden molds used to press the hand-rolled cigars. The family didn't lose any cigars, though — their walk-in humidor is on the opposite side of the shop.

The family has insurance to cover the losses. They lease the space and at some point will have to close temporarily while a contractor makes repairs to the roof and ceiling, Gonzalez said.

Getting the shop up and running again is what his mother would have wanted, Yordany said. "This is a family business."

On Wednesday, a worker rolled cigars at a table set up behind the store's plate glass window. Customers puffed on stogies filled with the family's signature blends of Dominican, Nicaraguan, Honduran and Colombian tobacco.

The phone rang. As a portable dehumidifier hummed behind him, Yordany explained to the customer on the line why a shipment of 50 cigars hadn't arrived yet.

"We had a fire problem here," he said, and mailing the box of 50 cigars had been delayed until Saturday. It should arrive any day now, he said.

As Ogando talked, James Dunn sat at the bar puffing on a Churchill Connecticut, a lighter blend of tobacco.

Dunn, 48, is a regular who happily makes the drive from his Riverview home.

"I'm very thankful this shop is still around, but his mom … I'm crushed by that," said Dunn, 48. "His mom was a saint."

Times staff writer Sara DiNatale contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

   
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