Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Nebraska Avenue encompasses a wide variety of cultures and different enterprises in and around its environs. As we saw with Bo's, we have a sort of retro 50's kind of place, that is reminiscent of the old soda shop, minus the juke box and soda fountain. At the other end of the spectrum, we have Ybor City, which is rich in its own history. Filled with Cubans of third- and fourth- generation emigrƩs, Ybor City was once home to the world's largest producer of fine, hand-made cigars.


This is the original cigar factory that was founded by Vicente Martinez-Ybor. There are several others around, and one burned down a few years ago. One is still in operation and you can tour the museum and watch cigars being hand-made.

The first factory was built in 1886, by Vicente Martinez-Ybor, who moved his operation from Key West to the new company town he founded just northeast of Tampa in 1885. The first cigar factory and holding company was a three-story building and the largest cigar factory in the world at that time. Over the next few decades, skilled cigar makers or tabaqueros would roll hundreds of millions of cigars on wooden workbenches set close together in the building's wide, sunlit rooms.

The skilled cigarmakers had a great deal of economic and social power until the 1930s, for they could always be recruited by other firms. They set their own hours and often left early to dine on Seventh Avenue or visit a club. Their wives were rarely in the work place, as they were part of the traditional social order of Spain and Cuba. Eventually, women began to enter the work force, but didn't hold the top artisanal jobs.

Often, the factories themselves were owned by Anglo or British owners, but the Management and Supervisory duties and all of the day-to-day functions were performed by Cubans or Spaniards. Each role within the producing of the cigars had clear-cut definitions of who would perform those roles, as each role had its own sphere of influence.


For example, the Spanish handled most of the jobs directly concerned with the manufacturing of cigars; wrapper selector, packers and knife-sharpeners, while the Cubans rolled the cheaper cigars, and Afro-Americans cleaned and did janitorial work. One of the most important and influential positions was that of el lector, who sat on a raised platform – la tribuna – and read the news and other items to the workers as they worked, a practice that had been started in Cuba and important in any labor negotiations, was highly prized and sought after.

The hand-rolled cigar business continued right up until after the Second World War, when mechanization was introduced and with it, began that slow and steady loss of a colorful industry that still, to this day, has one functioning hand-rolled cigar factory. It's on everyone's itinerary for a visit to Ybor City and it's fun to watch the skill and dexterity that it takes to roll and perfect these Cuban cigars. You also don't have to worry about smuggling them in from Cuba!

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