Johnson City Press Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Business & Technology

Members-only cigar lounge opens

September 12th, 2011 2:20 pm by Kate Prahlad

Joey Nickels admits his latest business investment might have been a little “over the top,” but he is confident about its success.
Nickels, the owner of Libation Station and the Plaza Package Store on North Roan Street, recently completed a 4,200-square-foot expansion that includes the construction of a private, members-only cigar lounge, The Ligero Cigar Lounge (named for the most robustly flavored leaf on the top of a tobacco plant).
“I went over the top, but I know it’s going to pay off,” Nickels said. “It’s a unique concept. There’s nothing like it in the area.”
Nickels bought the Plaza Package Store about six years ago, and added Libation Station soon after. He continued renting out the adjacent building to an oil and lube business, but had plans formulating in the back of his mind about his next expansion, a cigar lounge. He traveled across the country studying other cigar lounges, taking aspects of his favorites and merging them into his own idea.
For example, one such trip was a visit to a cigar bar in New Orleans on the day of a Saints football game to see how well the lounge maintained its atmosphere and what was a reasonable maximum capacity. After that experience, he knew he wanted to make his own lounge bigger in square footage than ones he had visited and set a limit on members of about 25 spots fewer.
Little did he know his plan for the lounge would come to fruition sooner than expected.
“When (the oil and lube business) left, it was about a year earlier than planned,” Nickels said. “But we jumped in with both feet.”
Construction started about six months ago. Now, the completed BYOB lounge is all dark wood and leather, with neutral walls, five large-screen high-definition TVs, one projector screen and every sports package DirecTV offers, Nickels said.
The expanded store has new beer cases and a new walk-in cooler, and perhaps what Nickels is most excited about is the 400-square-foot walk-in humidor: The room is sealed with Spanish cedar, lit with LED lights so no heat is generated and controlled with a German-built monitoring system that tracks the humidity level to up to one-tenth of a percent.
“This has been two years in the making, two years of planning,” Nickels said. “I’ve reinvested every nickel I’ve earned.”
But the lounge is not intended to be a direct money maker, Nickels said.
“This was intended for people who truly love cigars to be able to have a place to do so, and to learn more,” he said. “It’s not a business. I’m not saying, ‘Give me growth. I want to see 12 percent, 18 percent growth.’ Once I’m done (all memberships slots filled), I’m done. I’m not adding a thing.”
Annual memberships, at $400 per year, include a humidor locker and use of the lounge, which also has a kitchen and conference room, during its hours. Yet most of the membership is about education, as Nickels is hoping other cigar rookies — or even aficionados — will have the same experience he did.
“I barely knew cigars when I started, but I became an avid fan and follower through this,” he said.
Different cigar makers will visit the lounge to speak to members each month, and offer a free specially blended cigar at the event. At the end of each month, members will receive a cigar from the cigar maker scheduled for the next month so they can “study up.”
Still, Nickels knows his investment will show some sort of return.
“The idea behind this is to promote and grow my retail store. This is a big enough area to sustain it,” he said. “I want to be the best premium tobacco retailer within 200 miles, and I mean 200 miles.”
For more information about the lounge and memberships, call 928-6667.

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