20 November 2012

The Story of the Te-Amo Cigar Sign, a New York Icon

I've always enjoyed spotting one of these Te-Amo Cigar signs over a New York deli, newsstand or bodega. But they are getting rarer, as storeowners take them down and replace them with awnings, or as the businesses shutter and are replaced with boutiques and restaurants.

Te-Amo is a brand of Mexican cigar. Like Knox Hats in the world of habidashery, and Coca-Cola in the worlds of pharmacies and diners, Te-Amo once found an effective way to advertise its products by volunteering to buy signs for small, independent businesses. (Optimo cigar signs were also once a common sight. Optimo is an American-made cigar.)

Te-Amo cigars are made by Mexico's largest cigar maker, Nueva Matacapan Tabacos S.A, which has been run by five generations of the Turrent family. As you might guess, the Te-Amo brand exploded in the U.S. following President Kennedy's embargo on all things Cuban, and grew into a leading U.S. brand. Prior to 1960, the company sold most of its tobacco to Europe; after 1960, they began doing business with the U.S. The Te-Amo brand was created in 1966. That is when most of the Te-Amo store signs went up.

Alberto Turrent said in an interview with Cigar Aficionado: "Te-Amo [was a separate partnership that] had a warehouse in New Jersey. [At] the beginning it was in Miami—it didn't work. They had two partners, and one of the partners moved from Miami to New York. The best sales [for Te-Amo] were in the New York area....[The New York partner] died, and we bought the company in 1972."

Turrent further commented: "At one point we had 170 stores around the New York City area selling the cigars... [It was] mostly a New York cigar. In the '70s, about 60 percent of our sales [of the Te-Amo brand] came from New York."

170 stores! How many are left today? Without knowing what Te-Amo signs might be hiding in parts of The Bronx, Staten Island and Queens, I'd guess about a couple dozen.

I am not a big cigar smoker, but I enjoy a stogie a few times a year. I have not overly liked the Te-Amos I've tried in the U.S. But today the brand is also sold in Mexico. I can attest to the fact that the Te-Amos sold below the border are excellent cigars. 


Ed said...

I don't get that. Why would cigars made in Mexico, and sold be the same company, be better cigars when sold in Mexico but not in the United States?

Do they import the cigars they sell in Mexico from Cuba? That is the only explanation I can come up with.

With other agricultural products, the issue is usually the absence in the U.S. version of some ingredient that is not allowed here due to regulation or high tariffs. But I don't see how that would affect cigars.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

International companies of all kinds making different products for import to the U.S., adjusting their make-up to suit American tastes. Liquor is a big example. Certain sodas. Tonic water. All kinds of stuff. I guess Te-Amo thinks American cigar smokers are less discerning.

Anonymous said...

249 East Main St in Mt Kisco, NY has two Te-Amo signs in case you're looking for me survivors.

Jackson Murray said...

Still one in my home town in Secaucus NJ!