Cigar aficionados in South County have come to cherish the haven
in downtown Morgan Hill where they can enjoy a cigar and
conversation while drinking a glass of wine or beer. When former
owner Wyatt Miller decided last May to close the Morgan Hill
Tobacco Company after the city bought out his lease, a group of
members took action.
Cigar aficionados in South County have come to cherish the haven in downtown Morgan Hill where they can enjoy a cigar and conversation while drinking a glass of wine or beer. When former owner Wyatt Miller decided last May to close the Morgan Hill Tobacco Company after the city bought out his lease, a group of members took action.
“When Wyatt announced one evening to the members that he was going to close this store, there was silence. The silence could’ve been heard a mile away,” member Roger Hay said. “The people here were in shock. Afterward, there was a lot of rumbling that there must be something we can do.”
Meanwhile, Miller consolidated the Morgan Hill shop into his Hellam’s Tobacco Shop in Monterey, one of the oldest still-operating tobacco retailers on the West Coast.
Instead of letting their beloved tobacco retailer and cigar club at 17430 Monterey St. close after 12 years of providing fine cigars and a place to smoke them, Hay and 14 other members negotiated a new month-to-month lease with the city of Morgan Hill, which owns the building that is attached to the Granada Theater. The new owners did not purchase the previous business or any of the assets from Miller.
The new company, called the Morgan Hill Cigar Company, re-opened Sept. 25. On Nov. 12, they received their license to sell beer and wine for consumption on-site.
Customers will notice several improvements to the space, including new furniture, different floor coverings and fresh paint. The new owners installed an air filtration system to remove smoke from the air inside and outside the shop.
The Morgan Hill Cigar Company continues to sell 500 kinds of premium cigars from growing regions such as Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, ranging from $1.95 to $40 per cigar. None come from Cuba because of the United States’ trade embargo. In addition, pipes, lighters, cutters, humidors and other accessories and gifts are for sale in the retail area. Lockers kept at 70 percent humidity to safely store cigars are available for rent.
In the back, the well-lit lounge has a sports bar feel with a pool table and three large televisions showing sporting events. Regulars like to hang out at the stools by the bar, while small tables provide an intimate setting for couples. Customers can order a glass of beer such as Guinness or other premium beer to go with their cigar or choose from 30 wines stored in a temperature controlled wine room.
The Morgan Hill Cigar Company is already searching for a new home. The city of Morgan Hill plans to tear the building down in three to five years and replace it with multi-use retailers on the first level and living quarters and offices on the second floor.
“We would like to build to suit at some point and be a destination point,” General Manager Steve Boyce said. “We would like to stay downtown, but that depends on the city. We plan to have another round of investments that would fund us to build.”
The downtown location attracts passersby to the retail area during the day and restaurant goers at night. Hay stumbled upon the shop shortly after moving to Morgan Hill six years ago.
“I just happened to be walking up Monterey getting acquainted with Morgan Hill,” he said. “I came in and introduced myself. I met the owner, Wyatt. I thought, ‘This is great. I can buy fine cigars here. I don’t have to go on the Internet or to San Francisco.’ Walking a few feet beyond the counter, I was in a lounge where I could enjoy a glass of wine or beer. This is unique; you can’t do it very often in California. I found this jewel in Morgan Hill.”
Over the years, businessmen have struck countless deals beside the bar, couples have met and married and homeowners have hired plumbers, electricians and other contractors to make repairs.
“It takes a half-hour to an hour to smoke a cigar, and you’re sitting there meeting with like-minded people,” Hay said. “We are a paternity. We’re almost like a frat house. It’s different from any group of people that I know.”
The lounge bar is open to members and non-members alike. Customers drive from as far away as San Luis Obispo to the south and San Francisco to the north.
“It’s a nice place where we can smoke and do so inside,” said Bill Norrie, while smoking a cigar at the bar on a recent Saturday night. A former bartender at the lounge, he was visiting from Vietnam, where he is teaching English. “The atmosphere is just relaxing. It’s the ‘Cheers’ type of bar.”
John Sainsbury, of San Jose, agreed. “It’s a nice place. There’s no other place you can go smoke cigars and drink a beer or a glass of wine and hang out. The prices are reasonable. I’d come here more often if I (didn’t live) in San Jose.”
Members receive special privileges. For $300 a year, members are invited to monthly cigar nights when a featured cigar company offers samples of one or two cigars. They also receive 15 percent off all purchases in the store. Currently, the Morgan Hill Cigar Company has 40 members. Hay and the other investors hope that number grows. They plan to host ladies nights, game nights and wine tastings to introduce more people to the venue.
Boyce, who worked for the previous owner Miller for 10 years, continues to handle the day-to-day operations of the shop.
“For a lot of people, cigar smoking is a passion,” said Boyce, who is a cigar smoker. “It is a celebration of a wedding or a birth. Then there is the camaraderie of guys getting together to smoke cigars.”
As for the health concerns associated with smoking cigars, Boyce said, “You shouldn’t inhale them. (Unlike cigarettes) cigars are 100 percent tobacco. They’re a pure, more natural product.”
“Cigarettes are shots,” Norrie said. “Cigars are like sipping whiskey or cognac slowly. You sit and converse with friends. Most people come in here and have one cigar. They just relax and have a couple of beers and then go home.”
The Morgan Hill Cigar Company is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. For more information, visit