Walking into any cigar shop in the morning is a risk, but not at The Trading Post on Devon in Chicago. Who greets you but Marilyn Monroe with a cigar. There’s so much tchotchke all over the place I hardly noticed Bill behind the counter as I sauntered in. And not surprisingly the place had four guys smoking cigars there. Kudos, Mr. Espinosa.
William Espinosa is the owner of this time-honored shop located on the edge of Chicago. Bill has a small humidor but he does enough business where he keeps me coming back on a regular basis. And he’s adventurous and will pick up a couple boxes of a boutique cigar before he even tries it. Today he put in about four orders one being for Wilson-Adams, a relatively unknown cigar, but was touted by one of his regulars, Rod, I think. So he now had reassurance that he’s made the right choice.
Bill was an architect at one point in his lifetime but had the chance to buy The Trading Post a few years back and has been doing rather well ever since. It could be the selection of cigars, it varies all the time, or it could be Bill. I think it’s Bill. He has a relaxed attitude and loves to be with people – even reps.
So I light up a Wilson-Adams so the guys could take in the aroma because Bill decided to light up another sample I gave him instead. And then he had me pass out samples of other cigars to the guys. If this gesture was a play and I was the actor, I would have gotten a standing ovation. They liked them all.
But you can only stay in one shop so long, so down the alley I go, get into the car and head toward my next stop. I slow down at the intersection of Devon and Milwaukee; make the “S” turn and beeline it down Nagel to Utopia Cigars.
The store is owned by Kevin Samp and his brother (his name escapes me because he’s there so rarely).The shop has been at the same location for over 23 years on Montrose and Nagel in a strip mall with a hotdog shop and a UPS pick-up and delivery service. The parking lot is so small I always park one block away where there are no restrictions and the chance of my car being dinged is infinitesimally small.
Kevin used to work there sort of part time, but had to take on the full load of responsibility when his dad, Robert, died suddenly. But he was prepared and has run Utopia Cigars like a Swiss clock ever since. Has it had its troubles, sure, what business doesn’t, but he takes it in stride and the doors have remained opened as if Robert were still behind the counter.
I stick around a bit and shoot the bull, but I still haven’t had my cigar. If you do stop in, be sure to have a seat in the lounge. You really can’t say you’ve been to Utopia Cigars unless you’ve set your tired a%$ in one of the comfy, well-worn chairs. Then your visit is official. When I took the picture, I recalled the many hours Bob and I would sit there and trade barbs and talk about all sorts of things. It’s amazing if you stay in this business long enough you not only make friends but you lose them as well.
But I have to go – literally and figuratively – so I head to the cleanest bathroom this side of Montrose to the Mickey D’s across the street. Take a look for yourself. Now ain’t that be—u—ti—ful?
Ok. So I still haven’t satisfied my cigar Jones so I figure I’ll head to Cigars Plus on Lawrence. I can sit back and relax a bit with Vick Shah, the owner who not only can sell cigars, but he can do a mean impression of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.” You may recall that someone with quick thinking took a shot of him at a wedding or something and plastered it all over the internet. But he isn’t there. So I say g’day and head over to his new location that’s just opened two weeks ago.
Norwood Royal Cigars is the newest shop in town and when you walk in you can tell it’s not only new but run by someone who knows cigars. The humidor is spotless and well organized and the retail area would pass the white glove test for the Queen. I give Vick a hearty handshake and congratulate him on the look of the place. You’d see it too had the photo been a bit clearer. But now that’s your pull. I can’t show you everything. So we sit down with another guy who’s vaping in the store because there is no smoking in this new location. But somehow, a few puffs will make their way past the rules – mark my words.
So we all sit back and talk about everything from the new taxes on the vape liquids, to the events that Vick has planned for the store, the new cigars that he’s expecting, and how much of a hassle it’s going to be to find the space for them. But that’s the cigar shop owner’s life. I leave with a smile yet inside I groan that I still didn’t get my second cigar of the day. But then, there’s always tomorrow.