History of JR Cigar’s Alternatives & Cuban Alternatives
JR Alternative History
In 1971, my wife and I operated a tiny cigar store on the corner of 5th Avenue and 45th Street in Manhattan. When you’re operating a store that’s a grand total of 14 feet wide and 21 feet long, there’s not a hell of a lot of room to display many cigars, so I had a fixture-maker create two large, vertical showcases so that LaVonda and I could display a tremendous variety of cigars in a very small amount of space. However, to display cigars properly in these vertical showcases, it was necessary to remove the cigars from the original boxes and place them on glass shelves in the windows of these showcases, which were serviced from behind the counter.
As the store gained popularity through various unique promotions that we constantly created, we began to display large quantities of cigars and, by default, were emptying lots and lots of boxes every day. Then we crushed the boxes and put them out in the trash.
On an inspiration, I called Dan Blumenthal, the co-owner of Villazon at the time, and asked, “Dan, how much less would you charge me if I were to buy your Punch and Hoyo cigars without the boxes … just packed in a bundle?” His response was that he would charge me $1.25 less per box (that was a nickel a cigar) – BIG, BIG money in those days, when a Hoyo Rothschild was half a buck! A couple of years later (maybe 1975 or so), I made a similar call and asked him how much would those same cigars cost in a “nude” bundle (no bands; it was a loaded question at the time, because a Hoyo Rothschild never had a cigar band anyway – until a couple of years ago! But that fact apparently never dawned on him … By the way, he’s retired now so I can tell this story without embarrassing him!).
Anyway, he quoted me a price that was about half of what I was paying for the boxed version of the same cigar … and the “Generic Bundle” business was born!
Well, we started buying tons of bundles from Villazon. They all had factory codes on them: The #60 was the Hoyo Churchill/Punch Punch; the #61 was the Hoyo Governor/Punch Pita: the #70 was the Double Corona; the #80 was the Presidente … and so forth. Additionally, we had started buying similarly packaged cigars from Dominican factories to use as lower priced alternatives to the lighter-bodied and staggeringly higher priced premium cigars.
By this time in our career, LaVonda and I had started to do some mail-order business and we put these items in our “crummy little flyer” that we addressed by hand … we called these cigars the JR ALTERNATIVE to the Hoyo Rothschild, Punch Pita, Don Diego Lonsdale, Montecruz #210, etc. And … because they were very low in price, by comparison, to the boxed version of Hoyo, for instance (AND to the boxed versions of other cigars that were the competitors of the Hoyo and other brands), people who were more conservative with their money, or people who simply had less money to spend, started buying these products like crazy … and YES, they were the exact same cigars at the time (but NO … they’re not right now. Similar YES, exact NO. Let’s make that perfectly clear before we go any further.
Repeat after me: “Similar, YES … exact, NO.” …. “Similar, YES … exact, NO.”
I can’t hear you people … come on, you can do it! Similar, YES … exact, NO …? Congratulations.
Now that we got that out of the way, we can continue with the story. This method of acquiring JR Alternatives remained pretty much the same through approximately 1994 or so, when the Cigar Boom really started to boom and shortages of merchandise forced everyone in the industry to do things they really didn’t want to do.