Tampa, FL -- Tampa's nickname is “Cigar City”, so you might think the Obama administration’s announcement lifting the embargo against Cuban cigars would make cigar makers in Ybor City a little nervous.
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In fact, not only do they say they welcome the competition, they think it may actually boost business in the long run.
These days In Ybor City, about 14 workers still roll cigars by hand at a half dozen shops.
That’s a far cry from the 200 cigar factories and 30,000 workers that once powered half of Tampa's economy.
And it’s probably why Yanko Maceda, who owns Tabanero Cigars in Ybor City, reacted to the embargo news by saying, “The least of my worries is Cuban cigars.”
In fact, Maceda, who was born in Cuba, welcomed it.
He’s confident that once people get a chance to smoke the so-called forbidden fruit, they'll find his cigars not just better - but less expensive.
“And they're going to go ‘Wow!, the Camacho that I have been smoking for seven or eight dollars is a lot better than this.’
The fact is, Cuban cigars are already here. Tourists and relatives of people still living in Cuba have been bringing them in steadily for years.
Those in the industry say there’s a black market for them, and that will likely take a greater hit since a legitimate supply will now be more readily available.
And even if they do become popular, it may not have that much impact on Ybor’s economy.
That's because the historic district’s biggest industry is now tourism. Not tobacco.
We found a group of people on Friday enjoying an Ybor City historic Walking tour.
Among them, Steve Terrell, who was far more interested in the nostalgia than a cigar.
“You know with the older buildings and the street cars going by. It's just really nice, classic,” said Terrell.
“Tourists want to have a Tampa cigar. Cuban cigars they can get someplace else,” said Wallace Reyes, a historian with the Ybor Museum.
In fact, the biggest threats to his business, says Maceda, are FDA fees, taxes and the possibility of legalized marijuana.
“We even have a shop here in Ybor that's thinking about shutting down to become a marijuana dispensary,” said Maceda, who promises he’ll be keeping the “cigar” in Cigar City.
And if it means stocking a couple of Cuban brands he will, he says. For the curious. Not the connoisseur.
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