Friday, November 6, 2015

A Visit to Ybor City

Visiting Florida in early September can be challenging given the heat and humidity… Of course we ended up walking the streets of Ybor City on a day when the heat index was uncomfortably over 100 degrees!

Ybor City is actually not a city per se but rather a historic neighborhood in Tampa Florida.  It’s located just northeast of downtown.  Ybor City was founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers and was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain, and Italy.  For the next 50 years, workers in Ybor City's cigar factories rolled millions of cigars annually.

The population dropped and the Ybor City declined beginning during the Great Depression.  The decline accelerated after World War II, which lead to a period of abandonment and decay.  After several decades of neglect, a portion of the original neighborhood has been redeveloped into a night club and entertainment district.

We stopped in a shop along the main thoroughfare where Dawn Marie bought this very reasonably priced and cute straw hat.  The shop was a combination bar and cigar store with a nice hat selection as well… I took this photo of Dawn Marie and Laurie as we enjoyed a few moments of air conditioned comfort!

The neighborhood has been designated as a National Historic Landmark District, and several structures in the area are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  In 2008…this street, 7th Avenue, which is the main commercial thoroughfare in Ybor City, was recognized as one of the “10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association.

The ladies were ready to shop…and they were highly disappointed at the lack of places to spend our money.  There were bars, restaurants, tattoo parlors, cigar factories and cigar shops…but no really interesting places for them to spend some money.

In the early 1880s, Tampa was just an isolated village with a population of less than 1000 people.  However, its combination of a good port, a new railroad line, and humid climate attracted the attention of Vicente Martinez Ybor, a prominent Spanish-born cigar manufacturer.  Ybor had moved his cigar-making operation from Cuba to Key West, Florida in 1869, due to political turmoil in the then-Spanish colony.  But, labor unrest and the lack of room for expansion had him looking for another base of operations, preferably by building his own company town. 

Ybor decided that an area of sandy scrubland just northeast of Tampa would be the best location.  In 1885, the Tampa Board of Trade helped broker an initial purchase of 40 acres of land, and Ybor quickly bought more.  Since Tampa didn’t possess a workforce able to man the new factories, Ybor built hundreds of small houses to attract an influx of mainly Cuban and Spanish cigar workers, many of whom followed him from Key West and Cuba.  Other cigar manufacturers also moved in, quickly making Tampa and Ybor City a major cigar production center.

Dawn Marie was corralled by an elderly gentleman sitting outside one of the cigar stores.  I made the error of joining her while Laurie wisely moved on down the sidewalk where she took this photo.  Our ‘captor’ had been raised in Ybor City and lived there all of his life.  But, instead of talking about the area and its history, he spent most of our time talking to us about baseball…hardly a topic that either of us have expertise in…

The desk clerk at our Hampton Inn in Largo referred us to Tabanero Cigars, a cigar factory in Ybor City that is owned by a cousin of hers.  We don’t smoke cigars (or anything else) but we decided to have a look anyway… We do like the smell of tobacco leaves.  

While at its peak there were over 200 cigar factories in the Tampa area but that number is now down to just a handful of survivors.  Over 500,000,000 cigars were rolled in Ybor City in 1929, which is also the year that the Great Depression began.  To learn more about Ybor City, you can go to

This is the workshop inside the Tabanero Cigar facility.  This brand advertises that their cigars are made in the USA by Cuban artisans.  Tours are offered for $10.00 per person but we just asked if we could take a couple of photos.  There was a tip jar for passersby like ourselves…

The proprietor/manager told us that each of the workers in the factory produces about 100 cigars a day.  His typical cigar 'roller' has many years of experience.  There was ongoing chatter in Spanish and it appeared that everyone enjoyed their work…

I used to smoke an occasional cigar but the CEO of one company that I worked for really liked his cigars.  The management team would have a meeting in a conference room and everyone would light up.  A thick cloud resulted each time and that experience ‘cured me’.  I gave them up!   

There was a coffee kiosk and a number of comfortable chairs set up at the back of the facility.  The boxes on the left were stacked with 50 count ‘wheels’ of cigars.  Tabanero Cigars advertises that this is the only Tampa cigar factory to make all long filler Tampa Cigars.  Reportedly for every 100 handmade Tampa Cigars sold a local Cuban American roller, that worker will take home $80 to $120 dollars per day.

Laurie did buy 3 cigars…one for her brother-in-law and another for each of two nephews.  Single cigars cost from $4.00 to $20.00 each and 20 count boxes cost between $100 and $180.  Tabanero Cigars is located at 1601 East 7th Avenue in Ybor City (Tampa).  Phone: 813-402-6316.  Website:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

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