In Auerbach-style, Celtics fans celebrate the day with cigars

Paul Pierce, clutching the NBA Finals MVP trophy, smokes a victory cigar yesterday during the Celtics' victory parade. Paul Pierce, clutching the NBA Finals MVP trophy, smokes a victory cigar yesterday during the Celtics' victory parade. (MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ryan Kost
Globe Correspondent / June 20, 2008

From the doors of a cigar bar in downtown Boston, two friends began their pilgrimage.

Down the redbrick sidewalk, across the street, and through Faneuil Hall Marketplace they went, stopping when they came upon a small crowd of people busy snapping pictures.

In the middle was the object they had come to honor: The life-size, bronze statue of legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach seated on a bench - and, naturally, holding a cigar. The cigar was Auerbach's trademark; when it looked like the Celtics had won the game (even if the clock hadn't run out), he'd light one.

Once he was as close to the statue as he could get, 18-year-old Jiaan Hyland pulled the cigars he had bought minutes earlier from his pocket. He handed one to his friend, Sam Macasay, 17, and then lighted his own.

Hyland had a couple of things to celebrate yesterday - his birthday, for one - but the cigar, he said, was "actually for the Celtics, to honor the tradition."

Cigars, it seemed, were the accessory of choice along the parade route and throughout Boston yesterday.

Signs shouted "Have a cigar," and fans were happy to oblige. Outside TD Banknorth Garden, people puffed on cigars, so did a couple players as they rode by. Once the crowds dispersed, along with green and white confetti, cigar butts littered the roads. And downtown cigar vendors reported higher-than-normal sales.

"It's been crazy," said Kristen Strazdas, a bartender at Cigar Masters on Boylston Street. "Because of the guy who used to manage the Celtics. He smoked cigars so" now everyone wants to.

The bartender estimated the store had sold about three or four times as many cigars that morning than they would on a typical Thursday morning.

"It's been a nightmare," said Stephen Willett, owner of L.J. Peretti, a tobacco shop just southeast of the Public Garden. He guessed hundreds of people had been to the store throughout the morning.

But the traffic didn't help turn a profit.

"It's a lot more people, but the sales are small sales," he said. "And you gotta card them all 'cuz most of them are kids."

The crowds, he added, had chased away his regular customers who usually make costlier purchases.

The shop where Hyland picked up his cigars, David P. Ehrlich Co. on North Street, wasn't quite so swamped. Still, owner Barry Macdonald said he noticed an upswing in business. "The walk-in-walk-out trade is a little busier than usual" he said. "It's a sea of green everywhere you look."

Regulars, newcomers, Macdonald said he didn't mind.

"I embrace all of them," he said. "Obviously today is a day of celebration. What better way to celebrate than the lighting of a cigar?"

Richard Baglione, 60, couldn't think of one.

He nursed the last bit of his stogie near the bar, ash filled the tray on his table. Baglione, who splits his time between Los Angeles and Brewster, Mass., flew into town just in time for the victory parade.

Earlier in the day, he made his own trip to Auerbach's statue, he said. "You gotta have a cigar."

Macdonald's family used to have a shop on Tremont Street when Auerbach was alive, he said. "I never saw him come in the store personally." Still, he does remember Auerbach sending gofers to pick up cigars.

Auerbach smoked more than one cigar of choice, Macdonald said. But he distinctly remembers one of them: the Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur No. 1 - a light, 7.5 inch cigar that he still stocks.

"It makes a statement."

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