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Meet Cindy Garcia of Clove Smokes in Homestead

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cindy Garcia.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Cindy. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I had never heard of clove cigarettes but wondered what that strange smell was in the gothic nightclubs. So I began asking around town where I could buy them and nobody knew. So I did a bit of online research, learned about their makeup and origin, then called the company that imported them from Indonesia. They walked me through the process of getting my tobacco license and selling them, which I promptly did in early 2005. I then place my first order and began selling them inside the clubs. Having so much inventory at home I decided to rent a retail location, had a neon sign custom-made, and Clove Smokes was born.

My true intention, initially, was to help out Indonesia after the devastating tsunami on Christmas of 2004, but the business actually took off and became fun. I met all sorts of interesting people.

Thinking back, when I first told friends of my idea, they said, “No one has ever even HEARD of clove cigarettes, especially in Homestead”. My reply: “Well, they WILL NOW!”

Twelve years later, a lot has changed. In September 2009, the FDA placed a ban on all flavored tobacco cigarettes, rolling papers, and cigarette tobacco, thereby making clove cigarettes illegal. The kretek (clove cigarette) companies tried to keep the US business alive by creating clove cigarillos, still legal in the US. As a business, I began adding hookahs, shisha, charcoal, and hookah parts to my inventory, along with a huge selection of high-end lighters and cigarette cases. I also began selling roll-your-own tobacco products – rolling tubes, bags of loose tobacco, and the machines to make your own cigarettes. Here and there I’ve tried to add new products as the old ones become obsolete. It’s a struggle.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The first few years were better than I ever could have imagined. Customers were traveling from all over to buy clove cigarettes, then the herbal cigarette craze went into effect, and before I knew it I was selling to prop masters for stage and film. There were many bumps in the road, but we got over them.

Until a few years ago. One of my suppliers began stealing my customers and if that wasn’t bad enough, the main company producing the herbals saw the profit I was making and decided to also sell retail, and jack the wholesale prices. I have now stopped selling those products, as they’re charging me the same price as they’re charging my customers (that they’ve taken away from me). It’s a dirty business. I opened the door to that whole market and had a good name out there – and they completely stole that from me.

All that aside, the business is struggling even more due to all the bad publicity – and restrictions – on smoking.

Please tell us about Clove Smokes.
As the name indicates, Clove Smokes was what got me started, i.e. Indonesian clove cigarettes. I’d say that put my name on the map. Plus my name across the country with prop masters and actors as I supplied them with herbal cigarettes (no tobacco, no nicotine).

What sets Clove Smokes apart from any other business is the fact that I don’t sell cigarettes like a convenience store, I don’t sell novelty products like an adult store, and I don’t sell paraphernalia like a head shop. I’m unique in that I only sell clean, legal, products. And I’m proud of that. I’m also very proud that I made a name for myself within the town, and at the height of sales, did fairly well. As I said, the shop exceeded my expectations by about 200% or more.

At this point, my main products are (in order of popularity): bags of loose tobacco, rolling tubes, bidis (cigarettes from India), Zippo lighters, Egyptian hookahs, hookah tobacco, rolling papers, hookah charcoal, and parts for hookahs. I also sell ashtrays, cigarette cases, filters, pipe screens, old-fashioned wooden pipes, and other things you won’t find in other stores – like nasal snuff in 5 different flavors – and dissolvable, edible nicotine candy. Lots of oddities.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Well, the start-up was fabulous, full of excitement. I don’t think I’d change that at all. However, I think when the flavor ban went into effect in 2009, I probably should have tried to sell the business and start a new venture. Or at least tried to sell in 2010 when the sales numbers began dropping.

Pricing:

  • $17.50 half pound of tobacco
  • $33.00 full pound of tobacco
  • $4.20 box of tubes
  • $20.00 Zippo lighters

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Cynthia A. Garcia Photography

Getting in touch: VoyageMIA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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