Local News

St. Petersburg Keeps Fans Busy Between Games

Posted March 28, 1999

— Anything with Duke written on it is flying off store shelves. In St. Petersburg, Blue Devil fans are stocking up on something extra in anticipation of their team "smoking" the UConn Huskies.

If Blue Devil faithful need a good victory cigar, they will not have to go far to find one.

"I remember selling fuente cigars for a nickle or a dime with the rest of em," explained James Capitano.

Welcome to Ybor City, a section of downtown Tampa that is known for one thing.

"Brands such as Arturo Fuente, Cuesta-Rey, Garcia y Vega," said Capitano.

The first cigar factory opened here in 1886. By the early 1900s, most of the world's cigars were produced in this thriving Latin Community.

James Capitano is a third generation cigar producer and retailer, and business has never been better. One of his biggest customers and best buddies is Bill Cosby.

"One of the biggest things about him. We can't give him a cigar. If he can't pay for it, he wont take it," said Capitano.

Capitano's son is carrying on the family name, and they are not leaving Tampa.

"It's still the hub of the old timers because most of them still live here," said Capitano.

The young-timers are here too. Jerry Barco is working in his dad's store. His family tree is in the shape of a tobacco plant.

"A few generations ago, my grandparents were rolling cigars in Cuba. When the embargo came, they moved to the States," said Barco.

Technology has since chased many of the rollers back to the Latin American.

"There's not a lot of cigar rollers left that roll a good, quality cigar," said Barco.

Barco says he's going to college to get a business degree and stay in the cigar business. For old timers like Capitano, that's the right decision.

"It's a way of life. It's enjoyable and it's been good," said Capitano.

Capitano says one of his other big customers is the prince of Saudi Arabia.

Stuck in between those cigar shops and bars, people find little reminders that no place is safe from Final Four fever.

It is party central for basketball fans and it is the big reason the beer flows almost 24 hours a day. Fans can grab a drink and souveneirs.

Once abandoned buildings are now packed with t-shirts. There is also place where Duke fans can wear their pride a little more permanently.

It is Blue Devil Tattoo and Body Piercing where you can get anything from Duke's logo to a real scary looking Blue Devil.

The tattoo parlor owner says the name has nothing to do with Duke. In fact, he really knows nothing about basketball.

"We've had some Duke fans in here and UC, whoever that is. That's what comes in my mind," said tattoo artist Aron Pabst.

After all the partying that goes on here, you can bet some people woke up with "bodily" surprises. Luckily, they left behind a less permanent reminder on Ybor City.


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