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San Marco Hotel, St. Augustine Florida

CHAPTER V New Influences from Spain and Cuba

The Cigar Makers

Until his death, Eugene Pomar operated a small cigar factory in the City Building, producing the popular 30 Minutes in Havana, which sold very well, in spite of competition from the machine-made brands. His business was the only survivor of what was once a thriving St. Augustine industry, only recently revived with the arrival in town of other professional cigar makers, who are once again making cigars by hand in the Roberto Camino shop on St. George Street.

Bartolo and Frank Genovar opened the first St. Augustine cigar factory in a plant on Charlotte Street prior to the turn of the century, but it was P. F. Carcaba who really got the new industry rolling. A Spaniard, Mr. Carcaba had owned and operated a large plant manufacturing cigars in Cincinnati and he started his local business in a factory on Hypolita Street, which was destroyed in the fire of 1885. He promptly relocated the operation on Cathedral Street. He was an expert on tobacco and regularly journeyed to Cuba to buy select leaf. Among the brands he featured were El Mas Noble, La Perla, Espanola, and Neptuno. Mr. Carcaba loved St. Augustine and did all he could to foster the industry here and prevent its factories from moving to the larger, and faster growing city of Tampa which was known as a major cigar-producing center.

The making of top grade cigars by hand reached its peak here during the years just after World War I. Several hundred men and women were engaged in the trade, and, next to the Florida East Coast Railway, the cigar industry was the largest employer in town. A St. Augustine industrial guide for 1920-21 lists a total of eight cigar factories in operation.

A son and son-in-law of P. J. Carcaba, William Carcaba and Augustine Solla, teamed with Antonio Martinez to operate one of the largest and most modem of the factories. Many local citizens were eager to help their venture prosper and it was arranged that a location on Riberia Street be used, the deed to which specified that the property was to be given outright to the firm on the day the 5,000,000th cigar was produced, an event which never occurred. Both Mr. Carcaba and Mr. Solla met untimely deaths, and their partner moved to Jacksonville. Their business was taken over by the Pamies-Arrango company which succeeded in producing the prescribed 5,000,000 cigars and thus obtained the property.

Skilled workers, each producing from 100 to 300 cigars a day worked busily in St. Augustine's factories. Many came to this country from Spain and it was the custom for them to hire a man to read aloud to them from Spanish newspapers and even whole novels. The owners liked this custom, since it made the workers happy and prevented them from talking among themselves as they rolled the choice tobacco leaves-such talk all too often lead to arguments and bad feelings.

What ended this prosperous local industry? Automation, for one thing. A machine was invented which could mass-produce cigars; they were not as good as the hand-made ones, but they were cheaper.

Also, Tampa was the real center of the trade and with the volume of cigars it produced the railroads could offer bulk shipping rates. So gradually, one by, one, the factories closed.


 
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