Touring Ybor City’s Last Cigar Factory

By Bob Sanchez

In July, a small group from the Sun City Center Photo Club toured the J. C. Newman Cigar Company to see first-hand how cigars are still made in Ybor City. For the senior rate of $12 per person, company historian Holden Rasmussen served as our tour guide for about an hour to show the entire process, both for hand-made and machine-made cigars.

The building is called El Reloj, a three-story, block-long building that dates back to 1895 and is the only remaining cigar factory in Ybor City. There’s nothing modern about the process as workers either hand-roll cigars or operate antique machines that seem to operate as well today as they did a century ago. The main difference is in the workforce – an old photo from the 1920s shows a vast room filled with white men, elbow to elbow at work. What a difference a century makes!

The Newman Company promises that “this historic cigar factory will please cigar enthusiasts, history buffs, and those with interests in manufacturing and technology,” and the tour doesn’t disappoint. Photo Club member Christina Brittain said it was “amazing to witness every facet of production in this living, thriving factory/museum,” adding that the tour is “a truly memorable experience.”

The family-owned company clearly takes pride in its premium cigars and its employees. Rasmussen told us that every worker we saw on the floor has been employed there for around 20 years. Newman also has factories in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Their Cigar Family Charitable Foundation “supports low-income families in the Dominican Republic with education, health care, vocational training, and clean water.”

The cost for the tour is $15 for adults, and $12 for seniors, students, and veterans. All ages are welcome. The guide is knowledgeable, and the old factory is fascinating. By the way, there are elevators for those not inclined to climb stairs.

Visit “jcnewman.com” for their schedule and to book a guided tour.

IN THE TOP PHOTO: J. C. Newman’s company historian Holden Rasmussen talks tobacco with, from left to right, Nick Fader, Barbara Klimczak, Fran Beeson, and Christina Brittain.

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