by Kirby LindsayAdil Filali began to contemplate owning his own cigar store about three years ago. Then, “when I found this spot,” he said of a small retail space, located behind the Lenin statue, “I thought, ‘why not give it a try?’”
One reason might be the location of Fremont Cigar. It has proven difficult for people to locate. “It’s awkward,” Filali admitted, as the address – 3526 Fremont Place N - belongs to the street behind the building, “it’s confusing.” Yet, for connoisseurs of cigars – like Filali – the shop will become a destination worth finding.
Since opening the store in March of 2010, Filali and his wife, Gina Hughes, haven’t encountered anti-tobacco or cigarette-vilification sentiments. For himself, Filali admits that he loves cigars, and smokes them, but he does sell cigarettes, although he plans to get rid of them as soon as he’s established a solid cigar clientele.
“We felt it when the taxes went up,” Hughes said about the cigarettes. The explanation for raising the tax, Filali heard, was to get people to quit. He doesn’t believe it. He does know the incredibly high tax on cigarettes has created a black-market, with untaxed cigarettes sold under the table in other areas of the city.
Also, “nobody knows what they put in,” a cigarette, he explained, while the cigars he sells are handmade and hand rolled, without processing. “From the field to the shop,” Filali described, “Cigars are like wine, pick out the good leaves, leave them in the dark…” and, with time, they improve.
Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, A. Fuente, Macanuda, Monte Cristo, Padrones, Rocky Patel are some of the brands on display in the shop’s built-in humidifier. Cigars must be kept humid, Filali explained, “If they get dried out, that’s it.” For now, they only have the one humidifier, but they hope those looking for a particular brand will ask, and consider placing a special order.
Filali also sells hookah pipes, and hookah tobacco, which has little relationship to what most people think of as tobacco. For one thing, the hookah sold in Fremont Cigars is fruit based – grape, apple, watermelon, etc. One product listed molasses, glycerin and fruit flavoring in the ingredients – as well as .05% nicotine and 0% tar.
In addition to humidors, games, and sodas, Hughes and Filali want to add magazines and other convenience items, in time. “It cost more to start than expected,” Filali admitted. When he first shared with his wife his dream of owning his own store, “I thought it was a good idea,” Hughes recently recalled, “it’s turned out to be a lot of work.”
Originally Filali comes from Morocco, but he’s lived in the U.S. for 16 years – settling in Southern California and traveling through here as a commercial fisherman. “I love Washington State,” he said, “I love the people.” Each year when he came up to go fishing, he thought that the next time he’d pack up his stuff and move here – and he finally did in 2000.
Hughes grew up in Ellensburg, but moved to Kirkland “to get out of the small town.” When she met Filali, about 6 ½ years ago, she moved to Seattle. Today their son, Bilal, age 13 months, is growing up in Fremont, as he helps out in the store where Hughes declares, “he’s the boss.”
In fact, “that’s one thing that’s been really nice,” Hughes pointed out, that Bilal can be with them at work. Before this, Filali had worked cigar shows and in the stores of others, “I used to be a manager, but now we have to do it ourselves,” he said of the paperwork and the planning, which has been more than they expected. “We’re thinking about it all the time,” said Hughes.
Yet, both Hughes and Filali appear pleased about owning their own business – and watching it grow. More importantly, they like the neighborhood that they’ve adopted. As Filali exclaimed, “people are so friendly here in Fremont,” where they’ve found support for their business, and their dream.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.