While the turning of the millennium has captured people’s imagination throughout the world, few of us can honestly comprehend the enormity of the changes in civilization’s course that lie ahead in the next thousand years.

A new century, on the other hand, is a far more accessible chunk of time. Tobacco, and the industry that grew from it, has after all spanned the past five centuries. But even a century is becoming far too stodgy a unit of time to be of practical use. Wildly rapid advances in technology, a shrinking global marketplace, and maturing economies and societies have stacked the lion’s share of changes within our own industry heavily towards the most recent years. In the quaintly slow pace of life only 200 years ago, pipes reigned supreme as the smoking pleasure of choice, displaced in popularity by the convenience of cigars. It was only earlier this century, with the widespread adoption of machinery to mass-produce cigarettes, that the tobacco landscape was forever changed.

And so it is almost befitting that the waning years of the millennium would witness the meteoric rise of Internet commerce and its rapid challenge to conventional retailing. The volume of e-commerce transactions has tripled in each of the past few years, and consumers are expected to ring up over $12 billion of merchandise online during this holiday season alone.

"Dot.com" mania has been explosive, akin perhaps to the California Gold Rush in the mad trample to find the road to riches. After several years, the question of cigars on the Net remains an enigma: is it good or bad? For specialty tobacco retailers, breaking the e-commerce barrier has been a combination of entrepreneurial exploration and defensive posturing. Some of the same traditional retailers who have embraced it fully frankly wish it would go away.

But "The Land of e-Everything," as BusinessWeek e.biz has called it, is here to stay, so what better time for us to again examine cigar retailing on the Internet? The early days of the World Wide Web promised a level playing field for businesses of any size. But even in cyberspace, resources still count: you get what you pay for. Many retailers trying to differentiate themselves online have made considerable financial investments. But in the end, it may be the service-oriented, human factor that makes the sale and wins the long-term customer.

At year’s end, we would be remiss not to stress the current strength of the industry. The boom has been deemed "dead," but cigars and cigar retailing are far stronger today than they were at the start of the decade. The passion has been reawakened, pride rekindled, excitement refueled. And while the true realities of business and retailing in the new millennium may only be known as they unfold before us, the lesson of the romance of cigars must not be forgotten. The gap between the world’s pace and the simplicity of a fine cigar will continue to widen: if retailers focus on their strengths as knowledgeable purveyors of tobacco, antidotes for life’s maddening pace and complexity, their value and importance to customers will remain obvious and appreciated.

Smokeshop will continue in its quest to publish the successes and concerns of the tobacco retailing community far into the years ahead, providing the tools and information needed to run a top-notch store. You can help us out by pointing us towards the newsmakers, alerting us of problems in the industry, or sharing suggestions that would improve our product. We’re always happy to hear from you. Have a great holiday, and a Happy New Year!

E. Edward Hoyt III