Cigars have been a part of Ian Wilson’s life for almost 50 years now. He first started smoking them during his last year of high school in 1975 and in 1996, he opened Customs House Cigars on King Street.
Today, however, that chapter of his life — the commerce side of it, anyway — is coming to an end.
After more than three decades in business, Wilson is closing the doors to his shop on King Street after maintaining its status as a town staple for decades.
“It’s 26 and a half years later and I’m ready to retire,” he told The Lake Report.
In the ’90s, the cigar experienced a surge in popularity, which many credit to the foundation of American lifestyle magazine Cigar Aficionado, which launched in late 1992. This period is often referred to as “the cigar boom.”
Around this time, Wilson was working as a journalist with a passion for tobacco.
“When the boom hit, I had the idea of pitching a story to the Star about what was happening and the boom and all of that,” Wilson said.
While reporting on his story, which included visiting a cigar lounge in Toronto, Wilson had the idea to open up a shop of his own.
“When I was up there, I thought, ‘If there was something like this in the Niagara area, I would really like that,'” he said.
In its nearly three decades of business, Customs House Cigars has undergone quite a few changes but never wavered in its goal to provide great service to NOTLers and tourists alike.
When the store first opened it was on Queen Street, next to where 124 on Queen now resides, before moving to its current spot in 2017.
“It’s been a struggle at times and I’m lucky that I have a very understanding spouse,” Wilson said. “She has retired now but she had a good full-time job and was able to pick up some of the bills because you weren’t going to do that all with this business.”
During his time running the shop, Wilson said he most enjoyed meeting the interesting people who passed through.
“I sold a pair of sunglasses to Gordon Pinsent,” he said.
Other famous passersby included numerous hockey players and other Canadian stars including Ed Broadbent, Dale Hunter, Eddie Shack and more.
“Interaction with people is the most rewarding part. Probably to my detriment, my focus has always been to give people what they want and to make people happy rather than making the most money out of it,” Wilson said.
His dedication to customers will be something missed by die-hard clientele.
“You always think any businesses in town need a tourist element to make it work, but I’ve been lucky in that I’ve made a product that you can sell to (NOTLers),” Wilson said.
For those who will be missing out on their cigars in town, Wilson suggests checking out Cigar Experience in Niagara Falls or Havana Castle and Smoke Masters in St. Catharines.
The last day of business at Customs House Cigars was Dec. 29.