Former cigar factory for sale in Tampa


By PAUL GUZZO, Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The two-story wood-and-concrete block Ybor City building at 2708 N 18th St. is best known as a former Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. factory.

But Carlos Fuente Jr., the third generation of this family to lead what is now one of the largest handmade cigar companies in the world, also remembers it for a different company.

“That’s where my shoe shine stand was when I was a kid,” the 68-year-old said. “My grandfather gave me the box of shoe shine and put me to work so I could earn my own money.”

The Fuentes sold the 7,000 square foot building to the Blanco family in 1976.

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Los Blancos are now selling him for $799,500.

Estate agent Warren Foley said the layout remains the same as when the Fuente family owned it, a mix of industrial and residential.

The Fuentes were rolling cigars on the first floor. Society patriarch Arturo Fuente Sr. and his wife Cristina lived on the second floor.

Los Blancos used the first floor for cabinetry and turned the second into a six-bedroom, 2½-bathroom residence.

“The first floor still has the vaults where the tobacco was drying,” Foley said.

Fuente Jr. watched his father, Carlos Fuente Sr., build these vaults.

“He did it with his brother and his uncles and relatives,” he said. “Back when you couldn’t afford to pay anyone, family and friends wouldn’t let you down. I hope whoever buys the building respects its history.

The history of Fuente Cigars begins in 1912 when Arturo Fuente Sr. moved from his native Cuba to West Tampa and opened A. Fuente & Co.

The business has grown to over 500 rolls. Then, in 1924, everything was lost in a factory fire.

Arturo Fuente Sr. remained in the industry but worked with other factories for 22 years until he reestablished his business as the Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. on the 10 by 15 foot back porch feet from the Ybor family home. The employees were mostly friends and family. Sales were local.

Then in 1956 Carlos Fuente Sr. took over the business and expanded by purchasing the building at 2708 N 18th St. It was built in 1925 as a factory for the cigar company Vicente Nieto and Bros.

“I was living in West Tampa at the time, but my grandfather’s house was taken over by the freeway,” Fuente Jr. said. “So my dad turned the upstairs into a house for his parents.”

Carlos Fuente Sr. often stayed there after working late into the night.

“So one day my mom grabbed two suitcases and told me that if my dad didn’t come home to see us, we’d go see him,” Fuente Jr. said. “This building has become a second home. . Sometimes we stayed one night. Sometimes we stayed for a week. Many of our family did. The house was always full of cousins, uncles and aunts. We had giant family meals there. They would all sleep there. It was so much fun. It’s also where I learned a work ethic.

Fuente Jr. was 8 years old when he asked his grandfather for a dime to buy a lollipop at the corner store.

“He says, ‘You have to make your money in the valley,'” laughed Fuente Jr.

That’s when Arturo Fuente Sr. made him a shoe shine box and set up a station outside the factory.

“We did a lot of business,” Fuente Jr. said. “Another time, my grandfather bought a big block of ice cream and bottles of different flavors to sell snow cones. Another time, he had me set up a flea market. That’s how we were brought up in this building.

Meanwhile, Carlos Fuente Sr. put the cigar company on the map from this building.

In 1962, realizing that the United States would soon sever all relations with Cuba, he bought the island nation’s tobacco for 10 years. It is believed to be the last shipment of Cuban tobacco to the United States and to have survived competing supplies. Cuban tobacco enthusiasts throughout the country turned to Fuente cigars and remained customers when tobacco from other countries was later used.

The business outgrew its building, and in 1965 purchased the cigar factory at 1603 E Sixth Ave.

In the 1980s, the Fuentes opened factories and established a tobacco farm in the Dominican Republic.

Their Sixth Avenue building is now the headquarters. Their cigars are distributed in the United States through Ybor’s Newman Cigar Co.

“I always like to drive past our old building,” Fuente Jr. said. “That’s where I grew up. This is where I learned to ride a bike. I still remember the names of the neighbors and their nicknames. It’s a really special place.

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