A Merrillville cigar bar has a big enough selection to draw visitors from Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan.
But Karma Cigar Bar at 850 81st Avenue in Merrillville is setting its sights even higher. Owners Dhiren and Arpita Shah and Ronak Baxi plan a major expansion at their current location that would make it one of the largest cigar bars in the United States, putting it on the map nationally among cigar aficionados. They plan to add significantly more retail space, as well as a full-service bar, a restaurant, and live entertainment like jazz.
Earlier this year, they invested more than $1.7 million in a new storefront on U.S. 30, renovating about 3,200 square feet in a 12,000-square-foot building and leaving the rest unused for now. The 12-year-old business grew by nearly 50 percent and became the first cigar lounge in Northwest Indiana to start serving craft beer and wine.
Other area cigar lounges like 1101 Cigar Lounge in Schererville and Golden Leaf Cigar Store in Hobart and Michigan City offer customers non-alcoholic beverages like coffee, cappuccino and tea while they smoke their cigars.
Though smoking is generally on the decline, cigars remain a $6.6 billion a year business, according to the Cigar Association of America. The trade association estimates 5.5 million Americans smoke cigars, buying 13.7 million of them a year.
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Karma Cigar Bar has a retail business, a humidor where customers can rent lockers for their purchases, and a sophisticated lounge where it serves local craft beers and wines that cost as much as $96 a bottle. Customers recline in leather lounge chairs and can watch large televisions with surround sound while they savor their cigars.
"We offer an experience," Dhiren Shah said. "We're not just retail. We're in the business of hospitality and relaxation. We serve CEOs and union workers, attorneys and doctors. People like our experience. They like the ambiance and our selection."
Karma claims to have one of the largest selections of cigars in the state, with more than 900 premium varieties like Xikar, Arturo Fuente, Cohiba, San Crisotbal and La Flor Dominicana. The cigar bar should have more than 2,000 varieties after the expansion.
Karma Cigar Bar currently employs about nine people and hosts regular events, including fundraisers, wine tastings and tap takeovers by local craft breweries.
"It's been an evolution of the business," Dhiren Shah said. "But I always wanted to have something as classy as this."