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Tampa's surviving cigar factories a link to Cigar City past

TAMPA — Take a drive today through parts of Historic Ybor or West Tampa, and you'd be excused for thinking they're everywhere. About two dozen cigar factories, constructed of brick and typically three or four stories, seem to dot every street corner in spots.

But only about 1 in 8 of the buildings have survived from Tampa's Cigar City heyday of a century ago. By 1920, it's estimated that 10,000 cigar rollers were working in 200 factories here, producing up to half a billion hand-rolled cigars a year. The factories were concentrated in Ybor City, but also in the neighboring communities of Palmetto Beach, Gary, Port Tampa and West Tampa.

Times change. A combination of factors, urban renewal and the arrival of interstates being big ones, contributed to the razing of many factories, especially those that stood vacant.

In 2015, one of the surviving (though vacant) structures, the former V. Guerrieri Cigar Co. in Palmetto Beach, was destroyed by fire.

While some other buildings remain vacant, others have been reborn as offices, apartments, the Lions Eye Institute for Transplant and Research and Argosy University's West Tampa campus. In 2016, a factory on N Howard Avenue sold for $1.4 million to a partnership with plans to convert it into a boutique hotel.

Information from Times files was used in this report.