1. Business

Cigars International taps Pasco retail hub for its first store in Southeast U.S.

LUTZ — The company that is shuttering Thompson Cigar in Tampa is proposing a new retail location in Pasco County under its Cigars International brand.

Bethlehem Shared Services is proposing a 9,500-square-foot standalone store within the Cypress Creek Town Center retail hub near the Interstate 75 and State Road 56 interchange in central Pasco.

The store would be the first Cigars International location in the Southeastern U.S. It opened a new 6,000-square-foot store in the Dallas area last year. Its three other stores are in Pennsylvania.

Cigars International, known mostly for its internet and catalogue business, is owned by Scandanavian Tobacco Group of Denmark, the same company that acquired Thompson Cigar in 2018 for $62 million. Earlier this year, the company announced it would close Thompson's outlet store and distribution center just north of Tampa International Airport and lay off 112 workers by the end of the year.

Besides Texas, the company's expansion zeroed in on Florida ''due to weather and strong premium cigar heritage in the state,'' Craig Reynolds, president of Cigars International, said Wednesday.

The company also wanted to capitalize on Thompson's successful retail operation in Tampa.

"We want to give their customers a place to go to as well as bringing a presence to the market,'' Reynolds said.

Thompson's current retail employees will be offered positions in the Cigars International store, said MatCook, director of retail operations. The store will employ 30 to 35 people, he said.

Bethlehem Shared Services and Dynamic Engineering of Delray Beach submitted preliminary plans with Pasco County in mid-July for the new store to be built on 1.4 acres on Creek Grass Way, That is on the southeast side of the Cypress Creek Town Center retail complex near the existing LongHorn Steak House restaurant, east of Tampa Premium Outlets mall.

"They seem to be serious,'' said Bob Sierra of Pasco Ranch Inc., the land owner leasing the site to the cigar store.

The company's store near Dallas is 6,000 square feet, or just two-thirds of the size of the retail outlet planned in Pasco. The Texas store is marketed as a destination featuring more than 1,300 cigar brands, a full service bar, an indoor lounge with televisions and an outdoor lounge with fire pits. The Pasco store will include the same amenities, plus a conference room available for parties, a larger outdoor patio and more storage space, said Cook.

"It's not so much a cigar store, but a destination,'' Reynolds said. "We don't sell cigars we sell the customer experience.''

The company hopes to open the store by the end of the second quarter in 2020, said Reynolds, and it already is scouting a second potential location within the Tampa area.

U.S. cigar consumption is forecast to top 13.665 billion pieces this year with sales approaching $9.4 billion, according to Statistica's Consumer Market Outlook that tracks consumer goods. That represents a 4.4 percent growth in revenue over the past year and cigar sales are projected to increase at an annual rate of 2.2 percent over each of the next four years, according to Statistica.

Contact C.T. Bowen at or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.