UPDATE: as of December 2, 2020, Merchants Cigar Bar is now reopened after four years. Read more here.
The day that many of us knew might come has finally arrived, and another iconic NY cigar bar has bitten the dust. Merchants NY Cigar Bar confirmed on Facebook that it is closing down on December 19th after twenty years service. The cigar bar suffered from declining revenues, chronic management turnover and reduced business at its upstairs steakhouse which once was a neighborhood standard.
Merchants has long been an event spot for New York City cigar enthusiasts, and Fine Tobacco NYC hosted a number events over the last four years, including our widely attending Smoker Social series which lasted two years.
The list of true cigar bars (where cigars and liquor are sold together) in NYC has grown thin. The decline is due to a number of factors, including growth in city regulations and increased public antipathy towards cigars.
But its not all the fault of big government and the fading “good old days.” The demise of Merchants has lessons for the remaining cigar bars and lounges in NYC. With the exception of Nat Sherman, most NYC cigar bars and lounges have allowed their brands to stagnate. They still use marketing practices that are 10 years old — at best — resulting in a vibe that holds no appeal to newcomers who may otherwise become customers. And almost all continue to present themselves to the public in a way that is only relevant for 50+ year old veteran smokers who won’t be around forever.
If New York City cigar bars and lounges want to avoid the fate of classic venues like Merchants, they need to modernize their marketing and customer service practices, and more importantly find a way to invite newcomers in to the cigar scene.