Learn about Dave Mayer's journey from loyal customer to owner of Wooden Indian Tobacco Shop.
The business was founded under different ownership in 1959 as The Tobacco Chest, a modest enterprise located among an eclectic collection of retailers separated by cloth partitions in an indoor mall called the Bazaar of All Nations, in Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania.
After about five years in that location, the shop, which had been renamed the Wooden Indian Tobacco Shop, relocated to one of the United States’ first strip malls, the Manoa Shopping Center in Havertown, PA, where it resided for 25 years.
Although the Wooden Indian Tobacco Shop was not yet my business, it was “my” cigar store. I was a loyal customer – one with absolutely no intention of ever owning and operating the store I frequented. I simply loved cigars and being part of a wonderful community of cigar smokers. Little did I know the major role cigars would play in my later professional life.
In the 2005, my personal journey and the journey of the Wooden Indian Tobacco Shop became one.
I had retired from my investment business. For a while, it was wonderful to have complete freedom. I gave the beach a shot, but I soon grew bored. I needed something to do. Then, casual conversations with the owner of my favorite cigar store about the future of his business turned into conversations about my future.
Other than having worked in a drugstore as a teenager, I had no previous retail experience. But that didn’t stop me. I purchased the name, contents, and fixtures of the store and took the plunge into the premium cigar business. And I haven’t looked back in the 15 years since.
When I took it over, the Wooden Indian Tobacco Shop was the “little engine that couldn’t” of cigar stores. Like a locomotive needs coal to go uphill, a cigar store needs inventory to succeed. But the store at that time had just 123 open boxes of cigars, with very few popular brands represented.
I cleaned the deadwood out of the inventory and started to build it up with great highly desirable cigar brands. Within five years, the Wooden Indian Tobacco Shop featured 587 boxes of premium cigars and a growing customer base. But our humidor was only 220 square feet. We had to move to get bigger. So, move we did.
We took over our current Havertown location in 2010. At last count, we had 1575 open boxes, including limited-quantity boutique cigars, in our 950-square-foot humidor. Our new space gave us room to open the first Drew Estates cigar lounge, our 850-square-foot Liga Privada Lounge, which now has 50 members who can use a key card to access it whenever they want, day or night, to enjoy carefully selected favorites and premium cigar singles.
Wooden Indian Tobacco continues to grow in other ways. We relaunched the Wooden Indian website with a focus on building the brand as an online cigar shop and e-commerce platform, selling premium cigar boxes and more to a growing number of customers. As someone who has gotten accustomed to the one-on-one retail experience, e-commerce is totally different for me. It’s exhilarating – and a bit terrifying. But we are going to make it work.
Thanks to the great team I put together, my business is well-established and flourishing. Industry luminaries hold the Wooden Indian Tobacco Shop and its humble proprietor in very high regard, for which I am very honored.
Because I made the decision back in 2005 to turn my passion into my business, I have made countless friends I otherwise would have never met. And I have seen much more of the world than I ever expected to – including 20 trips to Nicaragua.
Every day is fun. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t keep doing it.