KENNETT SQUARE—The name of Kennett Square’s new cigar shop, Living My Best Cigar Life, evokes the culture and luxury of what can be an expensive hobby, says owner Gregg Fornario. “If you’re smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk, you’re OK using a red Solo cup for an ashtray,” he says. “But smoking a cigar is different. You need to be impressive.”
Accordingly, Living My Best Cigar Life (LMBCL) at 116 West State Street stocks everything the enthusiast might require—from sleek and solid ashtrays to humidors (cases for storing cigars at the proper humidity), torches, cutters, and even fedoras, or “smoking hats,” in the cigar-smoking style popularized by Humphrey Bogart.
Cigars pair well with other hobbies, too, including golf as well as whiskey and craft beer drinking, and LMBCL outfits customers for these pastimes as well. For the cigar-smoking whiskey drinker who has everything, Fornario sells a range of accouterments including whiskey glasses designed with an indented cigar rest. “Cigars go hand-in-hand with golf, too,” he says and points out shelves featuring items like cigar holders for golf carts.
But the heart of LMBCL is a temperature- and humidity-controlled, walk-in, cedar-lined humidor at the back of the shop. “We have over three thousand premium cigars,” Fornario says, “from all of the name brands and at lots of different price points.” While a cigar can cost anywhere between $5 and $30, the average cost is $10. Customers can purchase cigars singly or by the box. Gift boxes that include, for example, a selection of cigars and an ashtray, are available as well and are perfect for Valentine’s Day or any other occasion.
A Leaf from Kennett History
Cigars are well steeped in tradition, and they’re a part of Kennett Square's history, too. The first cigar shop in town predates LMBCL by almost 140 years. Robert T. Walker, who was selling “segars” in Wilmington before coming to Kennett, opened Walker Cigar Emporium at 120 East State Street (where Work2gether now is) in 1883. “Robert Walker ran that cigar shop for a long time,” says Lynn Sinclair, local historian and founder of the Kennett Heritage Center, “and his son continued to run the business after his death.”
In 1911, Italian immigrant Archie Ruggieri arrived in Kennett Square. He founded the Mushroom Transportation Company in 1923 and built 114 West State Street, the building right next to LMBCL, where the Mushroom Cap now is. Ruggieri ran a number of enterprises, including an Italian food shop, a café, and a bar. In the mid-1950s, or so the story goes, “He and his pal, Erminio Bugliani (Boog), went to Cuba with an idea to export mushrooms—but more likely to import cigars,” Sinclair says.
It hasn’t been legal to sell Cuba’s legendary cigars in the US since 1962, when, at the height of the Cold War and as part of the sanctions against Fidel Castro’s regime, JFK (who was himself a cigar connoisseur) imposed a trade embargo. While Obama lifted some restrictions on US citizens bringing Cuban cigars into the country for gifts and for their own consumption in 2016, Cuban cigars continue to be a point of political contention. In September 2020, Trump banned US citizens from bringing home rum or cigars from Cuba.
As Fornario begins the newest chapter of this history here in Kennett Square, all three thousand of LMBCL’s cigars are from either the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua.
Fornario, who says he’s been “living his best cigar life” for about a decade now, is a Kennett native. Not only did he graduate from Kennett High School in 1992, but he knew he wanted to open his shop “uptown” in Kennett Square. When the storefront at 116 West State Street became available, he knew it was the right location and it felt like the right time for him to seize the opportunity—even during the pandemic.
The LMBCL Experience
“Cigar smokers don’t start with a certain cigar and ‘move up,’” Fornario says. “We all want to try everyone in this room.” His personal favorites include the Perdomo, which he describes as being very smooth, and Montecristos.
Cigars, which come in many different shapes and sizes, are all wrapped in tobacco leaves. The shade of the wrapping generally reflects the strength of the cigar’s flavor. The darker the color, the longer the leaf has cured and the more nicotine it contains. “Maduro cigars, for example, are wrapped in a dark leaf,” Fornario says. “They’re an acquired taste—like black coffee.” The Connecticut wrapper, by contrast, is lighter, and the Colorado is somewhere between the two.
LMBCL customers who buy a cigar are welcome to smoke it right there in the eight-seat tasting room, which is furnished with comfortable leather furniture and a television. “There’s no membership, and people can come in throughout the day,” Fornario says. He invites people to come in and sit back, relax, and enjoy a cigar. The tasting room is also available to rent for private functions.
The thicker and longer the cigar, the longer it takes to smoke, but the average cigar takes about an hour. The Churchill, named after cigar aficionado Winston Churchill—who was rarely seen without his trademark long cigar—is a big cigar that takes about two hours to smoke. With so many different cigars to choose from, the LMBCL experience can be tailored to every customer’s tastes and schedule. “If someone comes in and says they want a 20-minute smoke, for example, I’ll make suggestions,” Fornario says.
Like many of Kennett Square’s small business owners, Fornario’s expertise matches his passion for his subject, and education is an important part of what he aims to do. There’s a lot to learn, and Fornario enjoys talking cigars—with the novice or seasoned cigar aficionado selecting their next cigar, or with women who come in to buy gifts for the men in their lives. More and more women are also smoking cigars themselves, he says. Another trend is to offer a catered cigar table at social and corporate events and weddings. Fornario will set up a selection of different cigars, cutters, lighters, and ashtrays, and help people choose a cigar to try.
Looking Forward to Post-Pandemic Cigar Life
LMBCL’s grand opening, on Thanksgiving weekend, featured a Sinatra impersonator—another storied cigar aficionado. Fornario is looking forward to the restoration of business as usual, with nearby Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen open late nights and the return of festivals and events. In the interim, there are several opportunities for cigar enthusiasts to enjoy the hobby safely.
First, ticket holders for Historic Kennett Square’s “Backyard” Winterfest case pickup on February 27 will receive a coupon for $2 off all Montecristo cigars at LMBCL. Jeff Norman, local architect, and Kennett Brewfest and Winterfest organizer, has long talked about adding a cigar-tasting lounge to the festival experience. “We’re looking forward to being able to explore that further with LMBCL once the pandemic is behind us,” he says.
In the meantime, cigar smokers have a great opportunity to pair their Montecristo—or any other cigar—with some new and unique beers. The 2021 Kennett “Backyard” Winterfest features two specially curated cases, with 24 different beers each, from 48 local and regional craft breweries. “Cigars with a dark Maduro wrapper have big, bold, spicy flavors and will pair well with stronger dark beers like Stouts, Belgian Quads, and Barley Wine,” Norman says. “Cigars with lighter Connecticut wrappers have lighter, smooth flavors and pair well with Saisons, pale ale, and lager.” Tickets for these limited-edition cases are still available at KennettWinterfest.com.
At LMBCL on March 13, Fornario is kicking off a series of “Second Saturday” cigar happy hours featuring live entertainment, complimentary wine, and a dollar off cigars from 4 pm to 7 pm. When the weather and COVID precautions permit, Fornario plans to host other events featuring cigar pairings with different wines and whiskeys, for example.
One final historical connection—a hundred years ago, by the middle of the Roaring Twenties in the wake of the 1918 flu pandemic, cigars were the nation’s most popular form of tobacco. Fornario is set for the post-COVID party—and in the meantime, he continues to enjoy living his best cigar life.
For more information and news of upcoming events, go to Living My Best Cigar Life and follow LMBCL on Facebook and Instagram.