Keeper of the Flame: Straus Tobacconist’s Jim Clark

    For 40 years, Jim Clark has been keeping Straus Tobacconist’s legacy alive and well.


    Challenging Changes
    When Clark bought Straus Tobacconist, the store’s entire cigar inventory fit into two 10-foot-long cigar display cases that might have held as few as 80 boxes of cigars between them. Clark could count his cigar vendors—Villazon, Consolidated Cigar Corporation, General Cigar Company, Arturo Fuente, J.C. Newman and Hollco-Rohr—on his fingers. Clark’s customers came into the store, made their purchases and left. To be sure, Clark has seen a lot of changes as a premium tobacconist

    Undoubtedly the biggest change Clark has witnessed in his 40 years as a tobacconist has been the need to become more politically active to ensure that Straus Tobacconist’s legacy extends well beyond its nearly 140-year history. As president of the Ohio Premium Cigar and Pipe Association, Clark has rallied other tobacconists in the state to defend the industry. The association successfully staved off an attempt to raise Ohio’s Other Tobacco Products tax to 51 percent from 17 percent and was also able to get a 50 cent per cigar tax cap approved. Clark has also been active in the dialogue between the premium cigar industry and federal officials in Washington, D.C., having traveled to the nation’s capital on several occasions to discuss the impact of FDA regulation on his business. Clark adamantly believes that more voices make efforts to defend the industry stronger. All it takes is a little initiative on the retailer’s part

    While Clark gladly shares his recipe for success in dealing with state and local issues, he’s less optimistic about turning back or significantly changing the FDA’s regulation of the premium cigar industry. The FDA’s November 2018 announcement of its plans to prohibit the sale of flavored vapor and tobacco products, Clark fears, is just another signal that the industry he loves may be headed toward significant changes that will ultimately drive out family-owned manufacturers and small, independent shop owners like himself.

    Whatever the future may hold for the industry, one can be sure that Clark will be doing his best to keep his store alive and well—keeping that flame that Henry Straus originally sparked in 1880 bright for many years to come.

    This story first appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.

    – By Stephen A. Ross, senior editor of Tobacco Business Magazine.