BEST TOBACCONIST - 2000
When the Golden Leaf opened 17 years ago, there were just a half-dozen or so cigar shops scattered about the Twin Cities. How things have changed. By the peak of the Nineties cigar craze, some 60 specialty stores had popped up in the metro, with many offering smokes at steeply discounted prices. Despite that boom--and the competition from online tobacco sellers catering to smokers looking to dodge taxes--longtime Golden Leaf manager Kent Charron says the store has hung on to its core clientele. "Everybody has taken a piece of the pie," Kent concedes, "but we're still doing very, very well. We have a lot of loyal customers." It's not hard to see why. The shop is small, but it boasts an enormous selection: 450 varieties of cigars, 60 blends of pipe tobacco, and some 112 brands of imported cigarettes--along with just about every tobacco accessory imaginable, from the top-of-the-line cigar lighters (we're partial to the gunmetal-and-chrome Mercury Quantum, "only" $55) to rolling papers and ashtrays. Care is taken in the presentation and handling of the product line: The walk-in, cedar-lined humidor is kept at a constant 70 percent humidity. A water-purification system has been installed to remove contaminants from the mist. And the cigars are regularly inspected and rotated (a process known as "fluffing"). While the average cigar at the Golden Leaf sells for about five bucks, connoisseurs can satisfy their Cadillac tastes as well. The Fuente Fuente Opus X, a nine-and-a-quarter-inch Dominican cigar, sells for $33.25 a pop--when they have them in stock.