Longtime D.C. tobacconist expands into Bethesda

By Danielle Douglas
Monday, January 24, 2011

Matt Krimm and John Anderson, owners of the District's oldest tobacco shop, W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist, had been considering a second store, just waiting for the right opportunity to come along.

When it did, they offered to buy Michael Copperman's Bethesda Tobacco. A longtime friend, Cooperman turned to the duo when he was ready to try his hand at manufacturing the kind of premium cigars sold at his store.

The deal felt right: Cooperman carried much of the same stock as Krimm and Anderson, plus he had a built-in clientele. The guys settled on a price in the mid-six-figure range, and now the new owners are busy launching the re-branded W. Curtis Draper Bethesda.

"We were in a good position to get the financing we needed to acquire the store. And it just seemed to be a good fit," said Krimm, who would not provide an exact sale price.

To run their new venture, Krimm and Anderson hired Paul Spence, who previously worked as the Mid-Atlantic regional sales manager for cigar manufacturer CAO International. The Bethesda store, located at 4916 Del Ray Ave., features a 20-seat lounge, walk-in humidor and outdoor patio, which the new owners plan to renovate before the weather warms up.

With the Super Bowl right around the corner, Krimm said the lounge may be put to use, but there are no definite plans just yet. For now, the new owners are more concerned with making sure Cooperman's customers know that their needs will be met.

That shouldn't be too hard for a company that has been in business for 123 years. In that time, W. Curtis Draper has become a Washington fixture, serving the likes of Calvin Coolidge, Anwar Sadat and Bill Cosby.

"We have a really eclectic mix of customers, everybody from bike messengers to top level attorneys and consultants," Krimm said. "It's a very unique place, where people of all different sorts of backgrounds become the same."

The store has passed hands a few times, with the namesake first selling it to William Martin, an employee, in 1946. When Martin died in 1990, he left the store to his wife and employee John Cox, who, along with Anderson, eventually bought out the widow. Krimm stepped into place after Cox retired in 2005.

While the Bethesda shop is the company's first foray outside of the District, it is not the first time Draper has expanded. About 25 years ago, the company closed a location on Connecticut Avenue and eventually moved the flagship from 11th Street NW to 640 14th St. NW.

Krimm said Draper may be on the move because of an ongoing dispute with their landlord, who is getting complaints about the cigar smell from an upstairs tenant. Up until two weeks ago, customers were allowed to smoke their stogies at the store, which is exempt from the anti-smoking ordinance.

The anti-smoking fervor that blew across the country in recent years didn't impact Draper quite as much as the economic downturn. Krimm said the company's sales were down about 5 percent in 2009, when customers downgraded or cut back on purchases. Revenue, which Krimm would not disclose, has since rebounded to pre-recessionary levels.

Krimm said he and Anderson are quite happy with their current footprint, but may consider another store -- if another great opportunity comes along.

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