Arts & Culture » 1st Thursday

Give the Man a Cigar

Hannifin's Cigar Store celebrates a century downtown


Hannifin's is cloaked in lore. As the cigar store marks its 100th year at Main and 11th, everybody, it seems, has a story to tell. From rumored connections to Boise's Chinese tunnels to its infamous collection of adult magazines, Hannifin's has deep roots in the City of Trees.

Today, Hannifin's still retains much of its old charm. The walls are covered in a hodgepodge of posters and cigar ephemera. A potbellied stove that once belonged to the old courthouse sits quietly at the back of the store. Though a new furnace system was added 10 years ago, the stove remains as an artifact from the days when customers gathered to chew the ends of cigars and warm their hands from icy winter winds. The floors are the same unvarnished wood that was laid down in 1908; floorboards that have seen the well-heeled soles of men like Idaho's legendary U.S. Sen. William Borah and Gov. "Butch" Otter and have also felt the shuffle of less fortunate souls. On a rainy day, the smell of 100 years of cigar smoke and ground-in dirt combine to write an olfactory history of Boise's past. "It's a smell that you can't replicate," notes Robert Guerrero, the current owner of Hannifin's.

Guerrero and his wife Angela bought the store from his brother, Jason Guerrero, in November 2006. Though Hannifin's has had a string of owners over the years, Guerrero is confident that he will continue the store's century-long tradition.

"It makes me feel good that there's a lot of history and a lot of people love coming here and seeing that it exists," says Guerrero. "And though some things have changed, many things have not." Guerrero, who's lived in Boise since he was 4, remembers growing up with Hannifin's. "Most people are familiar, or at least aware of Hannifin's," he says.

It's this familiarity that has bred the legends that persist today. One of the most common tales about Hannifin's involves its connection to Boise's alleged underground tunnels. These tunnels, so the story goes, were built by Chinese immigrants in the early 1900s as a place for black-market trading, gambling and opium smoking.

"If you go underneath this store," Guerrero says in a low voice, "you can see parts of the foundation that have been bricked up, and it's not original. So you wonder if those are bricked-off entrances to these tunnels that exist under the city."

And then there's the ghost story. Many of Hannifin's employees—including Guerrero—have heard footsteps late at night that sound like someone is creaking toward the store's restroom.

"One night I heard it," Guerrero remembers. "I was in the back, in my office, and I heard the noise. The hair stood up on my body and I was like, 'What was that?'" Many attribute the footsteps to the ghost of Raymond Allen Snowden. He was hanged at the Old Idaho State Penitentiary on October 17, 1957, for the brutal murder of Cora Dean. The night of the murder, Snowden was seen by store employee entering the Hannifin's bathroom. In the days that followed, police searched Hannifin's for clues and found the murder weapon in the gutter in front of the store. "With that evidence, they were able to convict the man of murder," Guerrero says. "So we think maybe he comes back to revisit the fateful night that he visited Hannifin's and left behind the evidence that, in the end, convicted him of murder."

But Hannifin's was already a card-holding AARP member by the time Snowden's ghost took up residence. The store opened at its original location on Eighth Street, next to the old Boise Hotel, in 1904. Four years later, Edmund Salmon, the store's original owner, moved it to its current address. Around this time, the cigar store dabbled briefly in the hospitality industry, rolling out cots for construction workers who were building the Arrowrock Dam. Though John Hannifin didn't officially purchase the store until February of 1921, he worked alongside Salmon from the store's earliest days and was an integral part of the business.

Continuing with Salmon's tradition, John and his brother Lawrence kept Hannifin's well stocked with 140 brands of cigars, cigarettes and pipe tobaccos. It wasn't until the 1960s that they introduced a small, but provocative, collection of adult magazines. This collection grew steadily over the years until the back room housed a display of 40 to 50 magazines and three walls of videos.

Anne DeGroat, who worked next door to Hannifin's at the Cash Bazaar in the 1960s, recalls her experience almost 50 years ago. "There were usually only men in there because there was a lot of pornographic material," she says. "So I kind of crept in and asked for the New York Times and left. Women really didn't go in there."

The inventory at Hannifin's these days is much different. For one, Guerrero has packed up the porn. The store's perishable contents, too, have changed. Gleaming new beverage coolers sag the old wooden floors. Joe Camel posters and tin cigar boxes now frame chilled rows of Mountain Dew and Miller Lite. Past the humidor—commissioned by Hannifin in the 1950s—are plastic racks of snacks and sundries. Guerrero hopes these additions will draw in customers that live in newly constructed downtown condos like those in The Royal Plaza.

But it's tobacco that has kept Hannifin's in business for the past century. Behind the counter, a colorful array of cigarettes draws patrons in. In the back, the store's humidor keeps 80 to 100 boxes of cigars at a perfect 70 percent humidity. Popular brands like Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta rub elbows with their fancier peers, such as Arturo Fuente's Opus X which costs around $70 a stick.

As the face of downtown Boise continues with its Botox treatments, and urban renewal forces old haunts like the Idanha and the Owyhee to undergo massive renovations, it's comforting to see a monument from so far back in the city's past still standing strong. And in Guerrero's eyes, it's this sense of history and tradition that keeps people coming back. "I would say it's about 80 to 85 percent of the customers that we see today, we saw yesterday and the day before, and we will see again tomorrow. And that's pretty typical of Hannifin's."

—Tara Morgan

Hannifin's, 1024 W. Main St., 208-342-7473.