The sign says “Around the World Cigars, Gifts” at 31 ½ Prospect in uptown Park Ridge.
The smell inside suggests hundreds of stogie brands, wafting on both the shelves and when the humidor in back is opened.
But the reality is that the emporium brothers Alpesh and Ramesh Shah have operated for 15 years is really a hybrid of several genres appealing to all ages.
The entrance suggests an old-fashioned neighborhood sundries store with a newspaper rack and candy display. All it lacks is an ice-cream freezer.
Further back are displays of sports memorabilia, including baseball cards on the display at left and figurines behind the counter at right.
Smoking lounge is a highlight
And in back is the meat of “Around the World Cigars” – the smoking lounge with four leather comfy chairs and couches, two overhead TVs and the precious humidor in back.
Before he details how he got into the cigar business, Alpesh Shah wants to thank a local government and community for allowing his family to continue to thrive in spite of heavy anti-smoking laws.
“I’d like to thank the city of Park Ridge for grandfathering us in,” Shah said. “Five years ago, we were grandfathered in to smoke cigars. You can smoke cigars in a lounge like this. Now you cannot have a cigar lounge unless you have a free-standing building (so smoke does not drift into the next-door business).
“It’s almost not worth it to do it anymore. But our thanks to all our customers.”
Brothers expanded to 800 kinds of cigars
Shah learned the business young. He was just a sophomore in college when he and his brother bought the store, just two years old. At the time, “Around the World” just had two cabinets’ worth of cigars. Now with the humidor, the store carries between 700 and 800 different varieties of cigars.
“We built the whole walk-in humidor nine years ago and remodeled the whole place. People can better choose cigars. There’s a better selection and better view.”
Around the World, except Cuba
Sorry, no Cuban cigars. They’re very much desired, but still illegal.
“Instead, we have cigars from Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico,” Shah said. “They have very good tobacco grown there, very good cigars; it costs as much as Cuban cigars.”
Shah said he draws customers from Des Plaines, Morton Grove, Niles and Glenview. But he has had an additional lure by stocking sports memorabilia for the last decade and some very big sports names coming annually to sign autographs.
“We’ve had Dick Butkus, Bobby Hull, Pete Rose, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto when he was Rookie of Year, and Carlos Marmol,” Shah said. “We move a couch and set up an autograph table, and get 100 to 150 at a time.”
Cigars, sports and sundries. As Uptown Park Ridge tries to modernize, it has several bastions of tradition like this store with a distinctive smell, a stone’s throw from the Pickwick Theater, also a throwback.