When was the last time you stood in line at a convenience store and listened to a customer who smokes cigarettes complain about the high price for a pack of smokes. It's not unusual for a pack of cigarettes today to sell for $6.75 a pack. Don't even think of the price for a carton of cigarettes is you are non-smoker or if you smoked several years ago. The prices have soared for those who continue to smoke.
A new business has opened in Lehigh for cigarette smokers and customers are finding out they can buy their smokes for half price and get the added feature that they are not getting chemicals and additives in their cigarettes.
That's the word today from Belinda Richardson, who has lived in Lehigh since 1996. She is the manager of the new Roll Your Own store located at 3114 Lee Blvd., next to the Tax Collector's Office.
Jennifer Bauer dumps tobacco into the top of a machine at Roll Your Own.
"People are coming in here and they can't believe it. We can sell them cigarettes like they want for half the price of going anywhere else, guaranteed. We have machines that roll the cigarettes for the customer," Richardson said. "It's a new way to produce your cigarettes."
"We use what's called natural tobacco and that means there are no added things like chemicals or other agents that many claim have caused addiction to cigarettes," she said.
There are three other such firms - in Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.
"What we have are four machines that produce the cigarettes. We pour in the blend at the top and the rest is pretty user friendly for the customer," Richardson said.
"Some customers want their cigarettes more tightly 'rolled' than others. Whatever the customer wants is how we supply their cigarettes."
"Our cigarettes don't burn out while you're holding them, too," Richardson pointed out.
Jeremy Fulton of Greenwood, Indiana, was in the store recently while on vacation in Lehigh Acres and he had stopped by to purchase several cartons. He said a friend had recommended the new Roll Your Own store to him.
"I'm going back home from vacation and a friend had told me about this new business in Lehigh and I check them out and tried them and the cigarettes were great. The prices are unbelievable, so I'm here today buying several cartons to take home," Fulton said.
Fulton is not unlike many other customers who do business with the Roll Your Own store.
"We see a lot of people coming back to purchase more cartons and they are telling us how much money that they are saving. Many tell us they don't think they are smoking as many cigarettes, too.
"If you add up what customers can save, it's a small fortune over a year that they can save by coming here and letting us roll their cigarettes," she said.
When someone first hears of "rolling a cigarette," the first thought comes to mind is how many smokers decades ago rolled their own using their tongues to stick the paper together. The whole process was unpleasant and smokers soon found out it wasn't something easy to do.
For Fulton from up north, he said he was saving $15 a carton.
"That's makes a lot of sense to me," he said.
The choice of tobacco is made by the customer and someone in the store will pour the tobacco into the top, into a chute of sorts, and within a few minutes, cigarettes start popping out at the bottom into a plastic tray.
"It's amazing to watch," Richardson said.
Customers take the cigarettes and place them into cartons and most are smiling when they pay us the lesser price which is much cheaper than buying cigarettes somewhere else.
Roll Your Own is owned by David Casman and Michael Rich of Cape Coral. One of them is usually in the Lehigh store on a daily basis or at least a few times a week.
Belinda Richardson and a small staff of employees are on hand to help customers. Those working at Roll Your Own include Jennifer Bauer, Calyn Ball, Sharief Thabit and Amanda Smith.
"And we all live in Lehigh," Richardson said. Some are part-time; some go to college and find time to work at the store. Some smoke and some don't.
Roll Your Own sports a big wide banner across the front of their storefront and has been opened now since mid December.
"We call the empty rolled cigarettes 'tubes' and the tobacco is blown into the tubes to produce the cigarettes. In all, it only takes a few minutes, 10 at most, before the cigarettes coming out the bottom chute," Richardson said.
Gambler Premiere is the store's top selling tobacco. But there are other brands, some stronger and some weaker. It all depends on just what the customer wants.
"If people want to buy their cigarettes and really save a fortune, then this is the place they need to be," Richardson said.
The store is large inside with several tables where customers can sit and talk or just relax. Richardson said they may consider adding more cigarette producing machines in the future it their business continues to grow.
"And from the way it looks now, we are getting a lot of people who are tired of spending a fortune for their cigarettes," she said.
Around the walls are large framed photos of celebrities who are shown smoking. It appears like a 50s stile dcor with photographs of people like Lucille Ball and James Dean and even Howard Hughes, they believe, who is posing next to his private plane with a cigarette in his hands."There's 200 cigarettes in a carton and they are lasting our customers for longer than the more expensive cigarettes," Richardson said. "I think it is because of the pure tobacco we use, and our smokers seem to love the flavors we sell."