Cigar Camp Blooms on South Side
by Larry Ciptak
December 11, 1990
Art Rooney Sr. bought his stogies there. So have most other serious cigar smokers, past and present — as hundreds of photos on the walls of Bloom Cigar Co. on the South Side indicate.
And on Saturdays they come for more than just their favorite smoke. A colorful group of cigar aficionados gathers at Bloom's, the tiny emporium at 54 S. 12th St., in fraternal spirit to celebrate with some of life's finer offerings: good food, strong drink, ribald conversation, TV sports, and of course, good-quality cigars — lots of them.
Imagine, in an era of non-smokers' rights a place where smoking cigars is not only condoned, but also implicitly required.
The Saturday tradition, about eight months old, was dubbed "Cigar Camp" by "Cynthia Busch, a musician with the Pittsburgh Symphony. one day as she dropped her husband Richard off for the weekly smokefest.
This particular Saturday, Richard bursts in and waves his arms as if to wade through the cigar smoke.
A hypnotherapist and paranormal investigator, Busch said, "Nicer people down here you wouldn't meet. Delightful place to come and forget the trials, tribulations and foibles of the human condition."
Women are welcome at Bloom's, but few take the opportunity. Almost all of the 30 or 40 visitors who pass through Bloom's this day are men, mostly middle-aged — but similarities beyond cigardom stop there. There are doctors, lawyers, a magician, merchants and laborers, students and executives, two regular customers come in with ankle bracelets used by Allegheny County to keep track of work- released prisoners — and pay with American Express Gold Cards. Yet all meet on common ground, all relationships are equal, cigars being the connection that brings together these folks who may well otherwise never meet.
Joe Greene's picture is on the wall, along with Lincoln Maazel's, Loren's dad, Ralph Berlin and Dave Brazil of the Steelers staff; former Steeler Ray Mansfield; newscaster Alan Boal; professional wrestler Dominic Denucci, Bruno Sammartino's protégé; Gerald Sampson, CEO of Kaufmann's; Sam Hollingsworth of the
Pittsburgh Symphony; lesser-known but no less colorful Jerry Dunlap, Dick Gilardi, Bill Conway, Dr. Sam Siegal and two priests in clerical garb. About 500 photos of men — and a few women — line the walls of Bloom's, most sporting cigars and sanguine grins.
A couple of letters of appreciation from Art Rooney Sr. are mounted, expressing gratitude for the "wonderful" cigars given as gifts by Bloom's. " [Rooney] broke a lot of guys into cigars," said Marc Adams, who has owned the store for 11 years. "He'd buy boxes of them and keep them on his desk, and anyone who wanted one knew where to go."
Mounted beside the "The Chief's" letters is one from Buckingham Palace, thanking Adams for giving the Prince of Wales a box of Jamaican cigars during his visit to the city in 1988.
Now take perhaps the most pro- cigar environment within a day's drive of the city, add a pot of coffee, bagels, lox and cream cheese, pastries and cold cuts, beer, whiskey and other beverages, more than 100,000 fresh cigars and a dozen or so overgrown kids, and you have a Cigar Camp.
"I'm camp counselor," quipped Mitch Rabinowitz of Squirrel Hill, whose task it is to gather foodstuffs for the weekly gala. His "job," like those other campers take on, is strictly voluntary: According to Adams, one "extremely wealthy" fellow comes down and volunteers his time on weekends to stock shelves in the store's humidor — and calls it "therapy."
Besides the "free cigar," Bill Dornenburg, who works at the Bedford Square Framer next door, also goes there himself for a little "therapy."
"When I'm over here I don't have to work over there," said Dornenburg, who in return frames the photos that are quickly taking up wall space in the store.
An empty cigar box is placed on the front desk each week with a "donations for" … sign attached, this week for a CD player. Adams pointed to a refrigerator and a television in the store that were recently purchased with such gratuities from the campers. "Can a wet bar be far behind?" asked Cynthia Busch.
Kurt Leland, from the East End, comes in with a small electronic device, called "The Last Word," which spews out laconic vulgarities at the press of a button. Immediately the Campers are playing with the new toy, imagining its uses, exploring possibilities. A few minutes later, they are taking turns calling their wives or employers and leaving crude messages on answering machines. An air of collective mischief permeates Bloom's.
Dr. Joseph Lindenbaum, first Camper of the day, said Blooms is the "best place in Pittsburgh to smoke cigars, with people who appreciate them. Ninety-nine percent of other places people look down on you [for smoking]."
Soon Lindenbaum's off to make rounds, but returns later to watch both the Pitt Panthers and the Pirates lose — and to smoke another cigar among the campers.
These aren't inexpensive King Edwards or El Productos cigars the men are smoking. Brands like Punch, Bance, Don Diego, Macanudo, Partagas and Flor De Caribe are high-caliber cigars that range in price from $1 to $5 or $6 — or more — apiece. Bloom's carries 51 brands, and is the only place in the Tri-State — and one of two companies in America — that distributes cigars exclusively.
In operation for 50 years, including 30 in the former Jenkins Arcade, Downtown, and six years on the South Side, Bloom's now does an. impressive volume of mail order business, shipping cigars all over the States and as far away as Argentina. The $60,000 inventory is located in a large humidor in back of Blooms, keeping the stogies moist and fresh.
A camper, apparently familiar with the weekly festivities, marches into the store and cries, "What's on the menu?"
Adams reels around in his swivel chair — cigar in mouth — and replies, "No matter how much business I do, the food always goes."