In a rapidly-changing city like New York, businesses regularly go up in smoke. Tobacco shop Barclay Rex, however, has been operating in Manhattan since 1910.
“I’d like to think it’s because of our service,” owner Vincent Nastri III said. “We try to treat every customer not just like a customer, but like family. That helps bring them back.”
Barclay Rex is considered the tobacco store in the borough, which had 55 operating as of 2014, according to data from the U.S. Census.
Over the years, its had a number of loyal, and famous, customers. For example, it was a go-to for old Hollywood legends like Frank Sinatra and Mickey Rooney, and more recently is frequented by members of the New York Knicks, Nastri said.
His grandfather Vincent Nastri, who first opened the shop, named the business after its original location at Barclay and Church streets in the Financial District and his dog Rex.
Since then, the family has moved it around a few times. They relocated to Maiden Lane in the Financial District in 1949 and in 1986 opened a second outpost at 70 E. 42nd St., which is still open and sells pipes, cigars, tobacco, and men’s hats.
In 2000, as the shop’s new owner, Nastri moved the original storefront to Broad Street. After his lease ended there last year, he operated out of a pop-up at 90 Water St. to keep the downtown flame burning while he scouted for a new location.
Nastri found what he was looking for at 126 Pearl St., where last month he opened a two-story shop with amenities including a 400-square-foot walk-in humidor, which preserves the cigars.
The new space has a private smoking club and a public lounge, and also sells other products like pipes, hats and tobacco.
“There’s only a handful [smoke shops] in the city where you can go and have a smoke” with other customers, he said.
According to David Savona, executive editor of the midtown- based magazine Cigar Aficionado, Nastri is onto something.
“[A] new trend evolved from shops that turned into destination places,” Savona said. “It’s a more complete experience for the cigar lover.”
Customers recently shopping at the 42nd Street location said that is what they find at Barclay Rex.
Noel Murphy, 50, who works in private security, said he prefers to buy cigars there because it is “homey, relaxed, personal.”
Leo, a 35-year-old architect, has been a customer at Barclay Rex for several years.
“It’s a great environment,” said Leo, who declined to give his last name. “They have great knowledge of the product.”
Patrons are also enticed by the shop’s inventory, Nastri said. Its cigars are primarily imported from the Dominican Republic, known for the Davidoff brand, and Nicaragua, which is famous for Padron.
While Davidoff has its own flagship stores at 515 Madison Ave. and 1390 Ave. of the Americas, Barclay Rex offers a slight markdown in prices, Nastri said.
He sells Davidoff cigars for around $10 to about $40. At the Davidoff stores, cigars cost anywhere from $15 to $45, according to a representative from the brand.
And like Nastri’s business, the national cigar industry is also doing well, according to an IBISWorld report last year.
It grew by 11% from 2010 to 2015, lit up by the recovering national economy, and it was worth $2 billion as of May 2015, according to the report.
The numbers are a welcomed sign for New York smoke shop owners like Nastri, who face a customer base that must pay high taxes on tobacco products and are aware of the dangers of smoking — challenges that weren’t around when his grandfather first opened Barclay Rex.
“It’s a different world entirely,” Nastri said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Maiden Lane is in the East Village. It is in the Financial District.