JR Cigar’s 50th Anniversary Celebration

January 1, 2021

In 1971, Lew Rothman opened a small tobacco shop in New York City. Using his father’s initials, the founder eventually grew J&R Tobacco from its humble little storefront to become the largest online cigar retailer in the world. For 50 years, we have provided our customers with the highest quality products at the best possible price. This year, we are celebrating not just our storied past, but our bright future.

JR Cigar will be instituting a large and celebrated campaign for all of 2021. This celebration acknowledges and thanks to our loyal and dedicated customers, employees, and manufacturing partners. This year is not just about us, but about everyone involved in making us the company we are today.

JR's 50th Anniversary

We’re rolling out several new projects to make 2021 our best year yet. We’ve teamed up with several of our top manufacturers to bring in exclusive brands, limited editions, and private label cigars. These projects celebrate not just our 50 years in business but showcase the craftsmanship and ingenuity of our partners. You can expect releases from esteemed companies such as Altadis U.S.A., Rocky Patel, Crowned Heads, Aganorsa, Alec & Bradley, and several more.

JR Cigar will also introduce limited-edition accessories. From humidors to cutters and ashtrays, these items will be one-of-a-kind and made of the highest quality. Engagement with our customers has always been important to us. We’re offering several promotions and sweepstakes in appreciation for our customers’ support over the years.

Yes, 2020 was a difficult year, but as always, we are looking to the future.  We are excited to have everyone join us in our 50th Anniversary celebration – and to 50 more years of success!

The History of JR Cigar Part I

For nearly 50 years, JR Cigar has been at the center of the cigar marketplace. With a store that stems from very humble beginnings, find out all you need to know about the growth and history of JR Cigar.

JR History

The Beginning

JR Cigar, named after Lew Rothman’s father Jack Rothman, officially opened its door for business on March 10, 1970, on 6th Avenue and 46th in NYC.

As Lew Rothman stated, the first customer in the door bought a pack of Tijuana Smalls Aromatic (a tipped little cigar in a pack of 10) for what he recalls as a whopping 29 cents.

During the balance of the week, customers would come and go asking about the price of cigars such as Te-Amo, Bering, and about 30 other brand inquiries. No matter what price Lew told them, they said they could get them cheaper somewhere else.

He got educated about market prices pretty fast, and so at the start of week number two, JR went from a full-price retailer to a cut-rate operation, which is the term everyone uses for the high-volume discount stores of the day.

He accomplished this task by purchasing all kinds of factory seconds and overruns and loading them up from the floor to the ceiling. Within six months, JR Cigar was a box office business, selling these cigars for the very best prices in the city.

At this point, Lew needed more than just the cheap second’s formula, so he started buying Miami-made cigars that no one outside of the Latin community in New York had ever heard of, including the now-famous Padron cigars.

Later down the road, fate took a giant turn for the better when Lew came up with a brilliant idea of making two giant signs that covered the store’s entire windows. The signs said, “BUSINESS STINKS SALE.”

One of the most popular New York columnists was Earl Wilson, who must have seen the signs and wrote about it in his column. All the TV stations picked up on the business stinks story, and JR Cigar became famous overnight.

Finally, in 1971, a Texas businessman who frequented the store when he was in the city asked if we could mail his cigars back to his home state. Lew agreed, and are now thriving mail-order business was born.   This is the red-letter day in our companies history and the official start of the world’s largest cigar company.

The 1970s

In late 1974, just five countries made handmade premium cigars. The countries were Spain (the Canary Islands), Honduras, Mexico, Jamaica, and Nicaragua.

Our biggest selling brands at the time were as follows:

There were many other lesser-known brands on the market trying to emulate the taste of these enormously popular cigars, so we decided to copy them all with just one brand called the JR Alternative.

These highly respected cigars changed the face of the company from when the line was launched in early 1975. Sold in affordable bundles of 20, and made in the same or similar factories as their original counterparts, the JR Alternative remains one of our most popular brands today.

Thanks solely to the huge JR Alternative line, this tiny little store added three more employees just to handle the enormous sales of these value-priced premium cigars.

The years 1976, 1977, and 1978 became one of the biggest growth spurts in the company’s history when Excalibur, JR Ultimate, and the Santa Clara cigar brands were produced.  Today, the JR Ultimate, available in every conceivable size, shape, and wrapper color is widely considered one the best Honduran cigars ever made.

Equally important was the fact that we became direct importers of cigars and got into the business of buying large Job Lots (close-outs of cigars from failing or cash-starved companies, or cigars that the public refused to buy at their original prices).

By the end of 1977, JR had become a major player in the cigar industry and had started to become a wholesale supplier to other stores as well.

By the end of 1978, people began writing stories about our left and right. The New York Times did a feature-length story about us followed by Consumer Reports, then a slew of travel books and “where to buy books” picked upon us and in a very short time. There was virtually no periodical that didn’t have JR listed as the best place on the planet to buy cigars.

The 1980s

All through the 1980s, our company grew in leaps and bounds with three stores in Manhattan, soon followed by Detroit, Washington DC, and two franchises in Philadelphia and Tel Aviv, Israel; culminating with a location in Dallas, Texas.

During this period, our home office moved to Tuxedo, New York, and was manned by four employees that handled all the mail order calls.

Our catalog operation grew exponentially. Smokers in all 50 states looked forward to receiving and reading our humorously written catalogs that were rife with Rothman’s side-splitting sense of humor.

In 1987, our home office moved to Fairfield, NJ. This was a huge facility that became home to our huge fully humidified warehouse, mail-order operation, and a cigar outlet that featured cigars, perfume, and various other items that would appeal to more than just cigar shoppers.

The 1990s

In 1991, due to prohibitive taxes on the sale of cigars, we ceased shipping cigars out of our NJ location and set up shop in Selma, N.C.

This location included a giant warehouse and a super-store that featured not only cigars but just about anything you can think of, from can openers to canoes.

Selma became the gateway for snowbirds traveling from the east coast states to sunny Florida. Yet another super-store followed this in Statesville, 90 miles east of the Selma.

This location was strategically located to serve the locals, as well as” snowbirds” traveling to the sunshine state from Canada and the Midwest.

Then came the cigar boom that started in 1993. Thanks largely impart to the magazine Cigar Aficionado, premium cigars became associated with the luxury lifestyle championed by the Baby Boomers; then 30- or 40-somethings.

All this spelled good news for JR Cigar, which by then ranked as one of the largest distributors and retailers of premium and mass-market cigars in the world.

Yet, according to Rothman, major manufacturers, who increased their production by 50 percent or more, still could not meet the distribution demands of a swelling market. This created a situation in which there were 80 million cigars on backorder.

By 1994, the scarcity of premium cigars caused a horde of start-up companies. Over 150 small manufacturers of inferior cigars sprang up to meet the new need to provide smokers with poorly aged or inferior tobacco, thus inundating the American market with lower-quality cigars.

These “Don Nobodies” sold for as much as the better-quality cigars. In addition, the massive increase in cigar smoking drove up prices by as much as 20 percent per year.

In a bold, risky move, Lew Rothman decided that he would only sell cigars to our established customers and refused to meet the supply and demand created by smokers looking to start what they called this hot new fad.

Then, in the late 1990s, the situation reversed. By 1997 the major manufacturers had caught up with production demands and these overpriced “Don Nobodies’ cigars were being sold by yours truly for drastically reduced prices.

With no competitors of its scope or scale, JR Cigar experienced greater than the combined growth of its closest four or five competitors.

Due to this tremendous growth, we outgrew our Fairfield NJ location and moved our home operation to Whippany New Jersey.

This giant building in the heart of Morris County became home to our mail-order operation, executive offices, a giant cigar Store, men’s shop, and perfume outlet. Alongside this, it was home to the gorgeous Montecristo lounge that featured a lush and luxurious lounge, wine shop, bar, and a restaurant.

In 1998 the company formed a subsidiary, JR Tobacco of Burlington, Inc., which opened a new 128,000 square-foot JR Outlet Center in North Carolina. This served as a distribution point and shipping facility for the company’s retail and wholesale accounts.

The fully humidified warehouse officially became the world’s largest Humidor. The outlet also included a super-store that featured cigars, shirts, jeans, fishing rods, designer fragrances, and more.

After opening the new Burlington outlet, the company leased approximately 45 billboards on the interstate highway from Virginia right up to the front of the store.

During this time, the Big Apple became a renaissance era for JR Cigar, which now featured two new beautiful stores. The first was a gorgeous two-story location located on the corner of ritzy 5th Avenue and 46th street.

In March 1998, the company opened a 10,000-square-foot, upscale cigar humidor, and bar in the heart of New York’s financial district. This was located in the New York Cocoa Exchange, a building steeped in history and is known for its gorgeous architecture and luxurious decor.

To be continued…

The History of JR Cigars Part II


In the last installment of the History of JR Cigars, we ended in 1998, discussing our new stores in NYC  located on the corner of 5th Avenue and 46th Street.

We also focused on our 10,000-square-foot cigar humidor and bar in the heart of New York’s financial district. These gorgeous stores set the groundwork for more great things to come.

At JR Cigars, the growth has never stopped, and in this article, we’ll take a look at the fascinating history of JR Cigars from 2000 to 2020.

2000

Due to the tremendous growth of our mail order business, we created two mail-order facilities to handle the sheer volume of calls. One was located in our Whippany NJ headquarters, and the other was a satellite operation found next door to our large Burlington facility.

As mentioned in part one, Burlington is a 28,000 square-foot JR Outlet Center in North Carolina that also serves as a shipping facility for its retail and wholesale accounts. The center is a fully humidified cigar store, along with a superstore that features, shirts, jeans, household items, designer fragrances, and more.

With a huge emphasis on premium cigars, this superstore model also included large warehouse-sized locations in Selma and Statesville that helped make JR Cigar famous throughout the state of North Carolina. Strategically located, these three superstores became an enormously popular pit stop for snowbirds from Canada and the Northeast as they headed to the sunshine state of Florida.

Our retail presence throughout the rest of the country was amplified by our stunning Paramus and Whippany stores modeled after a turn-of-the-century cigar store in the Midwest.

To create a nostalgic aura, these NJ super stores featured antique showcases, yellowish room lighting of the era, and a  wooden floor from a 100-year-old cigar factory in the Dominican Republic.

Additionally, many cigar boxes and bundles were prominently displayed on vintage cigar rolling machines used in this same factory. In fact, our Paramus and Whippany stores were featured in many major industry periodicals.

These pieces praised the stunning early Americana cigar store design that sat well with modern and cozy accommodation. The stores included plush seating, a full-service wine shop, and a restaurant along with then-revolutionary flat-screen TVs.

Our smaller yet equally impressive locations in Detroit and Washington DC primarily sold cigars, cigar accessories, and other tobacco-related products. The stores quickly received a complete remodeling and achieved record-breaking sales.

2001

Unfortunately, the tragic events of 9/11 forced us to close our Wall Street Court store located just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. Our elegant Fifth Avenue store became our only presence in New York City. Its stunning turn-of-the-century décor, inspired by our Paramus and Whippany locations, along with unbeatable prices, kept business booming throughout this turbulent time.

All the while, thanks to the thriving new era of social media, many of our customers began buying their cigars online directly from our website. This new demand caused our Burlington location to become our sole mail-order operation.

Our fully staffed state-of-the-art call center in Burlington remains a highly popular choice for smokers who would rather speak to one of our highly knowledgeable sales associates when placing an order from JR Cigars.

This new age of social media also helped our retail business grow immensely throughout the next two years. We created websites for every store in our chain and featured special events, guest vendor visits,  and affordable cigar deals specific to each location.

History of JR Cigars

 

2003

In 2003, one of the biggest event events in JR Cigars history took place. Our privately-owned company was purchased by the huge tobacco conglomerate, Altadis USA.

Altadis USA, a division of Imperial Tobacco, was founded in 1918 and is home to famous brands such as:

Along with these highly regarded and top-selling brands, Altadis was also responsible for some of the most notable machine-made cigars on the market.

This acquisition put JR Cigars in a most enviable position. Not only were we the sole distributors for these highly sought after Altadis produced cigars, but we were also part of the manufacturing process, thus giving us a lion’s share of the profits and huge buying clout.

2014

Late in 2014, our store on the corner of 5th Avenue and 46th street closed its doors for good, but this lack of presence in New York was short-lived, as we soon acquired two beautiful Cigar Inn locations at 1016 Second Ave and 334 East 73rd Street.

For many years the Cigar Inn stores served as a hot spot for the locals, along with celebrities, sports stars, politicians, and anyone else that was visiting the Big Apple and wanted to relax or enjoy a good cigar in a cozy lounge environment.

As stated in a press release by the former owners, the Fakih family said the following:

We have painstakingly built this business with passion and pride over many years, and we were very particular about who we selected to take this to the next level. We believe the new team is the right people to do this.

JR Cigars 50th Celebration

2014-2015

During this extended growth period, all our JR Cigars stores, including Cigar Inn, became known as Casa de Montecristo. These premier cigar stores focused their efforts on selling cigars and everything tobacco-related in the comfort of a modern and fully equipped cigar lounge atmosphere.

During this transitional period, the Statesville store closed in late 2014. It was replaced by the stunning new Casa de Montecristo lounge in Mooresville, North Carolina, which officially opened its doors in the spring of 2015.

Alongside the largest selection of premium cigars on the planet, the 5,700 square foot Casa de Montecristo lounge in Mooresville features a smoking lounge with two outdoor patios, 16 big screen HD TVs, a full bar complete with hand-crafted cocktails, and a huge selection of exclusive wine and craft beers.

2020

The latest chapter in “The History of JR Cigars” began in April of 2020 when Tabacalera USA acquired us. The transaction included half of Cuba’s Habanos SA, Tabacalera USA, Casa de Montecristo, JR Cigars, the world’s largest cigar factory, and some of the world’s most famous cigar brands, including the above mentioned Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo cigar lines.

Today, Casa de Montecristo, under the leadership of Tabacalera,  features 29 gorgeous shops across the USA. These company-owned stores, inspired by the Mooresville location, truly cemented Lew Rothman’s early dream of one day becoming the “World’s Largest Cigar Store”. Casa de Montecristo’s mission is to be the premium cigar-lounge destination for you and your fellow cigar lovers.

In addition to these gorgeous locations, our ever-growing website and mail order operation continue to offer smokers the opportunity to purchase their favorite cigars, humidors, pipes, accessories, and everything else tobacco-related from the comfort of their own homes.

Most importantly, we want to thank all our loyal JR Cigar customers for helping us achieve these monumental goals and for making our 50th Anniversary such a special milestone event.

Needless to say, we couldn’t have done it without you! We look forward to 50 more years of supplying you with all your smoking needs, including offering the fastest, freshest, and best services and prices on the web!

Romeo y Julieta Edicion Limitada JR 50th


For the inaugural release marking our 50th Anniversary year, JR Cigar is teaming up with another legendary name in the cigar industry – Altadis U.S.A. – to bring its customers Romeo y Julieta Edicion Limitada JR 50th, a special edition of the legendary Romeo y Julieta brand.

Once a popular and high-end part of the legendary Romeo portfolio, the Edicion Limitada is coming back to the market in a spectacular way.

“We are incredibly fortunate to work with JR Cigar on this momentous project,” said Rafael Nodal, Head of Product Capability for Altadis U.S.A. “From its complex blend to its packaging and even the band, Romeo y Julieta Edicion Limitada JR 50th is the perfect cigar to launch this year-long celebration. We are looking forward to many more years of working with the JR team,” Nodal said.

Romeo y Julieta Edicion Limitada JR 50th

The Romeo y Julieta Edicion Limitada JR 50th is handcrafted in the Dominican Republic at Tabacalera de Garcia and rolled with a wide variety of aged tobaccos from four different countries. It starts with Dominican and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos for a nutty and zesty core. The binder is a rich and flavorful Connecticut Broadleaf, while the finishing touch is an exquisite Criollo Mexicano wrapper.

The result of this blend is a complex and bold smoke that offers flavor transitions with each puff. Notes of pepper and spice combine with rich chocolate notes to create a complex, yet smooth and refined smoking experience.

This is a limited run project, so make sure to pick up your box before they are all gone!

Buy Now


As the celebration of our 50th Anniversary continues, JR Cigar is partnering with the iconic manufacturer Crowned Heads to bring a special limited release project to both companies’ loyal customers.  Mother Church is a cigar crafted to celebrate our golden anniversary and to pay homage to Crowned Heads’ roots in Nashville, Tennessee.

The cigar takes its name from the famed Ryman Auditorium®, Nashville’s legendary music venue. Formerly known as the Grand Ole Opry® House, the Ryman has played host to several of the most legendary musical acts of the last 100 years, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and the Foo Fighters. Due to its origins as The Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892, the venue has long been known as Mother Church by Nashville natives.

“When we were approached by JR to create a 50th Anniversary release, we wanted to do something that really spoke to Nashville and our ties to this great city,” said Crowned Heads co-founder Jon Huber. “The Ryman Auditorium, or Mother Church as we know it in Nashville, is an iconic part of the city’s history and is also something I’ve wanted to spotlight since we began Crowned Heads 10 years ago. The celebration of JR Cigar and their 50th anniversary is the perfect opportunity to bring this vision to fruition.”

Handcrafted in Nicaragua at Tabacalera Pichardo, the same factory responsible for Crowned Heads Mil Dias and Juarez lines, the Mother Church is rolled with a three-nation blend, ensuring complexity at every level. The filler is made with aged tobacco from three of the main growing regions of Nicaragua. For the binder, the team went with a bold, rich, and sweet Connecticut broadleaf. The wrapper is a flawless Ecuadorian Corojo 99 leaf.

At the first draw, touches of pepper, richness, and leather become apparent. What makes this blend truly enjoyable is the tobacco-like sweetness that grows with each puff. The slight hints of spice combined with the sweetness and inherent rich flavors from the binder make this an incredibly smooth and complex smoke that changes flavor throughout.

Offered in a unique box designed to resemble the stained glass windows and church-like features of the Ryman Auditorium, Mother Church by Crowned Heads is available in a 10-count quantity and in one size: 7 X 48 Churchill ($12.90 per cigar). Only 500 boxes were made, so pick up yours while you can!

Buy Now

Montecristo Cincuenta JR 50th


As part of our year-long 50th-anniversary celebration, JR Cigar is paying homage to the most iconic cigar brand in the industry with the release of the Montecristo Cincuenta JR 50th offered in the torpedo vitola.

“The Montecristo Cincuenta was originally released in 2019 to celebrate another 50th anniversary – that of our Tabacalera de Garcia factory in La Romana, Dominican Republic,” said Rafael Nodal, Head of Product Capability for Altadis U.S.A. “Now we are proud to offer this iconic Montecristo vitola as a special limited edition to celebrate another tremendous milestone, the 50th anniversary of our colleagues at JR Cigar. This blend showcases the amazing tobacco and skilled blenders we have. It is the perfect cigar and size for such a great occasion.”

The Montecristo Cincuenta JR 50th is hand-rolled in the Dominican Republic at Tabacalera de Garcia. It uses vintage Dominican and Nicaraguan tobaccos for the filler followed by a flavorful Dominican binder and a rich, flawless Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper.

Montecristo Cincuenta JR 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Torpedo 6 × 50 MXCIJR50

When first released, the Cincuenta was smooth, rich, and subtle, with dashes of nuts, leather, coffee, and a touch of spice. Now that these cigars have been kept for two years in reserve in preparation for this release, the tobaccos have aged beautifully, creating an even smoother and more flavorful experience.

Offered in a 10-count box, Montecristo Cincuenta JR 50th is available in one size: 50 X 6 Torpedo. While the two vitolas originally released under the Cincuenta line were box-pressed, the JR 50th is a rounded-style torpedo. Just 500 boxes of this exclusive, limited release were created.

Priced at $35 per cigar; $350 per box, this cigar will be available this Monday, April 5th, exclusively at www.JRcigars.com.

Buy Now

Comments

12 responses to “JR Cigar’s 50th Anniversary Celebration”

  1. Steve Martin says:

    I wish everyone at JR Cigar a wonderful, fruitful and healthful 2021 (50 YEARS!!!!)! What an achievement. My Grandfather shopped with you guys in New York back in the 70’s, and my Dad smoked so many JR Alternatives over the years, he said he could have built a literal house of cigars if he stored up every one he smoked.

    I’ve now been shopping with JR since 1999. I’ve been to the NC location before, but used to shop at the JR in Southfield, Michigan regularly; as in every weekend. Some of my favorite cigars have always been the JR Ultimate Cabinet series. I believe they were about $55.00 for a cedar cabinet full back in the early 2000’s. How times have changed. I’m glad the cigars have not!

    Here’s to another 50 years in the business, and much success through the unforseen changes that will surely continue to challenge our ability to savor in our love of the leaf!

    Happy New Year, and a VERY Happy 50th!!

    Always a friend to JR ~

    Steve Martin
    Mount Clemens, MI 48043

  2. Harry S Gaylord says:

    Enjoy my relationship with JR Cigars. Great company and professional employees. Always willing to help on my requests.,thanks

  3. Robert L Rosekrans Sr says:

    Long Ashes for another 50 !! Hey

  4. Michael Russo says:

    Congratulations JR A half A Century is quite accomplishment. Good Job and keep on Trucking.

  5. Charles Dilworth says:

    Happy fifty years to jrs cigars and happy new year.

  6. Greg Mathis says:

    Literally just got into smoking cigars in December for something different to do. Purchase cigars for my son for Christmas and he left me some. Well, that was a mistake. Lol. I have ordered several different brands from different distributors and so far as I can see, I’ve received the best deals so far from JR cigars. Started building my own humidor today, I guess this will be my new hobby. Can’t wait to see some of these juicy deals, I’ve been smoking the milder cigars along with trying some of the flavored ones. Thank you for your prompt service and wonderful products! Any tips or hints for a new cigar smoker is greatly appreciated. Best of luck and happy New year!

  7. Bob Speakman says:

    Great company. I have been a customer for over 30 years . Employees always helpful and curious..Congrads on the 50 years !!!! Keep on smokin !!!!

  8. Richard N Shimaitis says:

    Congrats on 50 yrs I’ve only been with you for around 40 though! I use to love going thru the catalog and read the comments Lew would use. Now I guess it’s on video. Well times changes but JR and their cigars and service just keep getting better

  9. Daniel Faille says:

    Congrats great job, keep up the great work you all are doing.

  10. I started buying cigars back in 1994 from Thompson’s and then switched to Two Guys our New Hampshire. In early 2000’s I switched and started buying cigars from Cigar International up until a couple of years ago, when I began my relationship with JR Cigars. Now there is no looking back, love the selection the prices and the professional service I receive from JR Cigars. Bar none the best cigar company I have ever dealt with and look forward to dealing with for the rest of my life. Congrats on 50 years and here is to another 50!

  11. Edward says:

    Newish to cigar smoking & pipe. Waa blessed to find 50yrs anniversary with 50 cigars for $50. Just ordered and anxiously awaiting my delivery from JR. My own celebration is box opening on my black beard sailing “pirate bar boat,… CONGRATULATIONS & thank you for caring for us faithful cigar enthusiasts.

  12. Paul Dunn says:

    Congratulations on fifty amazing years . JR saved the cigar industry in the 1980s . I have been a JR customer since the early 1980s
    In addition, my compliments to Nick Libretti, he is a great
    representative for the company and will often discuss new brands I had not considered .
    Best Regards,
    Paul

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