Gerry Grate outside The Tobacco Shop
Pratt Street Originals | Gerry Grate and The Tobacco Shop
Feb 22, 2022

Welcome to our Pratt Street Originals series, where we get to know the people and stories behind our amazing Pratt Street businesses. This month, we’re spotlighting the owner of a Pratt Street business that has quite the history of its own in Hartford—Gerry Grate of The Tobacco Shop.

2022 marks The Tobacco Shop’s 102nd anniversary! Gerry is the man who made that 102-year milestone possible. In his decade as proprietor of the Tobacco Shop, Gerry has become a fantastic advocate and beloved member of the local business community, the greater Hartford community, and our Pratt Street family. 

Read on to learn more about Gerry and his shop!

Gerry Gate inside the Smoke Shop on Pratt Street

Retiree to Small Business Savior

In 2011, The Tobacco’s Shop’s long history seemed to be coming to an end. The previous owner was priced out of the shop’s Asylum street location, and loyal patrons gathered to share their final cigars with friends.

Gerry was inspired by the friendships he made at the shop and confident in the unique value that the shop provided the city. While he enjoyed the time that he spent at the Asylum Street location, he recognized that with the storefront closing at 5:00pm, his “brothers and sisters of the leaf” longed for a cigar shop that they could continue to enjoy into the evening. His new goal: own and operate a cigar shop and lounge that would make people feel welcomed and accepted, and not rushed out the door.

It was at this moment that the new Tobacco Shop was born—one early evening, Gerry and his friends were walking down Pratt Street. They saw the large windows in the storefront of 89 Pratt, and Gerry said: “This is it. Our guests can look out the windows at the brick road and have a beautiful view of this eclectic street in Downtown Hartford. It’s almost like a throwback to cigar lounges in the 1920’s!”

To save the business and community he had grown to love, Gerry came out of retirement, purchased the shop with a few friends, and opened here on Pratt Street.

A Proud History that Anyone Can Be Part Of

Gerry’s commitment to honoring The Tobacco Shop’s history and maintaining its legacy as a welcoming community spot is a principle that is very close to our heart. The shop still has the original cabinets, walk-in humidors, and logo styling as it did on the day it opened in 1920. To honor his friend and previous shop owner, Jim DeLisle, Gerry named the lounge the DeLisle Lounge.

As the owner, Gerry has continued to offer a wide selection of high-quality cigars that bring many customers to the store. However, many customers will agree that the personal and welcoming atmosphere of the shop is why they stay. With WiFi, a comfortable, private, members-only lounge area, and expert advice on the perfect cigar, the shop has continued to maintain a close-knit membership community.

Unlike many organizations with a strong member community, The Tobacco Shop is welcoming to not only new members but cigar novices and all new visitors. Guests will always experience a helpful and positive environment led by Gerry and his staff. The bridge between members and new visitors is strengthened during the many events that Gerry creates or hosts at the shop—from cookouts to concerts, comedians to book clubs, all are welcome.

Leading the Way to a Better Tomorrow

During the transition from retiree to a small business owner, Gerry has become a huge advocate for local shops, the importance of collaboration between business owners, and Hartford’s development as a premier destination. He has served as president of the Business for Downtown Hartford Initiative and frequently advocates for Hartford businesses at city budgeting and planning meetings and hosting community meetings and roundtables at the Tobacco Shop.

“You can have a business, pay your taxes, make a living, and survive,” said Gerry to interviewers in 2017. “But more importantly, you have to connect with your neighbors and get involved. There is strength in unity.”

In addition to advocacy, Gerry frequently collaborates with local businesses for pop-ups and special events at the shop.  “Community is everything; if I can help my brother or my sister move forward, hopefully, they will do the same for somebody else.” He also speaks to the inclusivity of his Pratt Street neighbors—it’s a community that cares about the ups and downs of other businesses. Gerry believes “It’s my job to do right by them, and in return, they do right by me.” Our favorite collaboration happens almost daily on Pratt Street: Tobacco Shop customers frequently stop by Capitol Spirits to purchase their favorite drink, which they are welcome to enjoy with their cigar at The Tobacco Shop.

What strikes everyone most about The Tobacco Shop is Gerry’s undeniable passion not only for the work he does, but for creating a place for everyone: “I know I will never get rich doing what I do. I am enriched by the clients who walk through my door every day—I get to see the richness of cultures, walks of life, skin color, and paths. I could care less about the dollar that keeps me afloat. I care about the people that enrich my soul.”

We hope this article gave you a little more insight into our first Pratt Street Original: the one and only Gerry Grate. We could write for hours about our incredible, talented business owners, but the best way to learn more about them is to come down to Pratt Street and meet them! With the weather getting warmer and the city returning to normal, there’s no better time to enjoy an expertly selected cigar on the Pratt Street patio. Tell Gerry we sent you! And don’t forget to keep an eye out on all of our upcoming Pratt Street events! This July, we’ll be celebrating the 102nd Anniversary of The Tobacco Shop, which is sure to be a night to remember!

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