The factory is located at 2701 North 16th Street in Tampa, but you won’t need your GPS to find it. Just look (or listen) for the big clock tower. Known throughout the years as “El Reloj” (Spanish for “clock” or “watch”), the building used to be the city’s timekeeper in an age where most people worked in the cigar industry and didn’t have timepieces of their own.
The over 110-year old factory was purchased by J.C. Newman in 1954 when he moved his cigar business from Ohio down to Tampa to be closer to Cuban tobacco distribution. The Newman family executed a major renovation back in 2002, including getting the 1500-pound bell working again. El Reloj is open to the public on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., although visitors are strongly encouraged to arrive before 3:00 p.m. when cigar rolling stops. It’s free to visit the cigar museum, theater, rolling room, and factory store. More in-depth guided factory tours are available for $15 per adult and $12 per person for seniors, students, and veterans.
The tours include a trip down to the basement, where the tobacco leaves are processed and the aging and archive rooms are located, and the second floor, which is home to the bulk of the manufacturing— that’s where you can see employees using antique machinery. The interactive theater offers videos on the Newman family, how cigars are made, and the history of box label art, among others. The third floor is a “factory within a factory” where employees do the hand-rolling.
The tourism aspect of the business is relatively new to the company and took a little getting used to. “Five to seven thousand people come through here per year,” Eric says. “The majority of these people are not cigar smokers. Our employees can’t believe people actually want to pay money to see what they do every day. We tell them, ‘Yeah, you’re important!’ They are proud of what they do.”
J.C. Newman represents the quintessential American Dream story. In 1890, the Newmans were recent immigrants to the United States, and J.C.’s mother, Hannah, paid $3.00 per month for 14-year-old J.C. to apprentice in the cigar trade. After working as a journeyman cigar maker for three years, J.C. was laid off during a severe recession. Facing unemployment as an immigrant, J.C. decided to follow the American
Dream and start his own company.
In 1895, J.C. used some old boards to create a cigar table in the family barn, borrowed $50 for tobacco, and received his first order for 500 cigars from the family grocer. His first brand of cigars was named “A.B.C.” an acronym for “Akron, Bedford, and Cleveland”—the name of the local streetcar line. By 1916, he had added two factories in Marion and Lorain, Ohio and had 700 employees.