Hendricks County’s version of the popular pub occupies an old-fashioned brick storefront at 36 E. Main St. The brainchild of Brownsburg couple Bruce and Lisa Freestone, it is-as the name suggests-both a bar and cigar shop.
“We’re the only such cigar store in Indiana,” asserted Bruce.
The enterprise represented quite a change in direction for the Freestones when they opened its doors in November 2003. Bruce, 47, worked as an information technology consultant and project manager for 25 years. Lisa, 45, was a registered nurse.
But Bruce also was a longtime cigar aficionado.
“It was sort of a hobby for Bruce,” his wife said. In addition to taking the occasional puff, he kept track of cigar trends in the United States. When he realized that stogie sales were on fire-increasing at an annual rate of up to 9 percent-his hobby suddenly seemed like a business opportunity.
Part of the appeal of opening a cigar store is that the customer base is likely to be extremely loyal.
“People who tend to smoke cigars are passionate about it,” Bruce said. “It cuts across age groups and income levels. Bars come and go, while cigar stores, though modest and local, stay around.”
The cigar store was a success and, after a year or so, the Freestones started thinking about ways to expand the business. Eventually, they hit upon the notion of adding a bar.
“The two just seem to complement each other,” Lisa said.
The couple received their liquor license in October 2005 and formally reopened as My Favorite Cigar Bar the following month. The bar changed the ambiance of the business, they said.
“In the evenings, it doesn’t actually feel like a retail store,” Bruce said.
The business, which seats 30, has a clubby, intimate feel. Overstuffed black leather couches and chairs are clustered around the entrance. The bar is on one side, facing shelves of cigars that line the opposite wall. A row of small tables with stools runs down the middle of the room. In the back, there is a climate-controlled storeroom-set at 72 degrees-for the premium cigars.
“If you keep cigars that way, they’ll last about forever,” Bruce said.
While My Favorite Cigar Bar sells drinks, it’s not a party bar. Businessmen make up most of the clientele, Bruce said, coming in after work to unwind or meet friends. Many customers take advantage of the place’s wireless Internet access.
“They go online, smoke a cigar and have a single-malt scotch while working,” he said.
Still, cigar sales exceed drink sales. Customers come for the 200 brands of cigars the shop carries, from small cigars to huge ones to flavored ones. Bruce noted that small cigars are popular. Many customers want to take a 30-minute break on the way home from work, and a small cigar is perfect for that.
The biggest challenge the Freestones face is competition from Internet cigar sales. Bruce said Indiana doesn’t make much effort to collect sales tax on such sales, so Internet dealers have a price advantage. His business competes by attracting customers into the store.
“Once we get them in, they tend to buy their cigars here,” he said.
Having a liquor license helps draw customers and encourages them to linger. The Freestones also hold special events such as holiday parties and free bar food on Fridays. Atmosphere is a big draw as well.
“It has the pub-type atmosphere we horribly lack in Indiana,” said Brownsburg resident Andy Hall, 39. Hall also has been smoking cigars for 25 years, so he’s pleased with the Freestones’ knowledge of the product. “They’re well-versed in cigars.”
Fellow cigar fan Jeff Ferguson, 45, is just as happy with the social side of the business.
“Whenever I go in there, at any given time, I’ll know about 90 percent of the people there,” the Brownsburg resident said.
Lisa Freestone and her husband, Bruce, have transformed their Brownsburg smoke shop into a cigar bar.