As the sun began to set on an usually bright February day in the West Village, a steady procession of middle-age men hoping to buy a smoke came up to the entrance of Village Cigars, yanked on the door handle, and found it locked. One after another, each man peered in through the glass storefront at the stripped shelves and empty display cabinets.
“This is very disturbing,” said Sean, a 53-year-old regular who has been coming to the store on Seventh Avenue since 1998. “I didn’t even know they were closing.”
Inside, the fluorescent lights flickered over what was left in the triangular 373-square-foot space. The shelves were emptied of smoking paraphernalia and lotto tickets and candy and cigars and brightly colored lighters. All that remained were a few floor mats, a wall-mounted screen playing an advertisement for Vuse e-cigarettes, and one lone cherry-red bong tube on a wood-topped side table.
“They stopped paying rent last summer,” said building owner Jon Posner, a lifelong resident of Greenwich Village. Considering it was a single-tenant building, he said, “You can imagine that’s quite painful.” After the shop failed to present its tobacco license, Posner said that he had signed a separation agreement with the shop owner, which required them to vacate the storefront by February 7.
Andy Singh, who has owned Village Cigars for 26 years and who owns Andy’s Deli next door, said that he had not stopped paying rent, but that the separation was the result of a disagreement about the lease term. After falling behind in rent during the pandemic, he had switched to a month-to-month lease arrangement. Singh said that the city had stopped approving his application for a license to sell tobacco several years ago, and he had requested a ten-year lease. That, he argued, would allow him to pivot to a different sort of business, like a wine shop. But Posner said no.
Although Posner listed the property for $5.5 million in 2021, he says it’s not currently on the market; instead, he’s looking for a new tenant who is willing to preserve the building’s rich history — and, in particular, keep the iconic red signs that flank the front door. “I take that pretty seriously. This is a unique property; I’m going to treat it as such,” he said. (The building itself is also within the Greenwich Village historic district, so it cannot be altered without going through the Landmarks Preservation Commission first.)
The shop has been selling cigars to residents and commuters since the early 20th century, when it was called Union Cigars. Also part of the plot is the Hess Triangle, a mosaic set into the concrete in front of the store, which reads, “PROPERTY OF THE HESS ESTATE, WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN DEDICATED FOR PUBLIC PURPOSES.” The tiles appeared in 1922, after the city had demolished buildings in the area to construct Seventh Avenue and the subway line underneath. But surveyors had overlooked the tiny triangular parcel of land when appraising the site, and the Hesses, who had owned the apartment building on that parcel, had refused to give the land to the city; they chose instead to install a mosaic memorializing their defiance.
“It’s not every day a 100-year-old business known the world over closes in your neighborhood,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of Village Preservation, dedicated to the cultural and architectural heritage of Greenwich Village, among other neighborhoods. “It’s sad to think of that iconic intersection without Village Cigars. Their presence was an element of continuity in a city and a neighborhood that’s undergone a tremendous amount of ongoing change.”
Out front, Sebastian Rosthal, 21, who grew up across the street from Village Cigars, looked at the empty shop.
“It’s definitely going to be weird,” he said. “This is the whole style of the neighborhood, with the signs and everything.” Rosthal compared it to the closure of another Christopher Street institution, Fat Cat, the game bar and music venue, a few years back. “They created the neighborhood’s whole personality,” he said.
By 6 p.m. on February 7, a super who works for Posner was entering the store to change the locks. He said he’d been surprised to get the call that Village Cigars was gone. Shortly after he went in, locking the door behind him again, a man approached, smoking a stub of a cigar. When he saw the empty interior, he did a double take. “Oh, shit,” he said, and ambled off toward vape row on West 4th Street.
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