TAMPA, Fla. — Richard Gonzmart reads aloud to rollers, keeping them entertained as they make cigars in J.C. Newman’s El Reloj cigar factory.
“A hand cigar maker would pay, so the story goes 1-2 pennies a week to the lector and he would read novels, the newspaper, the bible. It was a way to help them get through the day faster,” explained Bobby Newman, J.C. Newman Cigar Company Executive Vice President.
Lectors were influential leaders in Ybor City for years, but in 1931 factory owners banned them.
“Encouraging the rollers to go on strike and unfortunately this is why the rollers went away,” Newman said.
For the first time in 90 years, J.C. Newman is bringing lectors back to Tampa. It’s part of the 111th birthday celebration of their cigar factory. When they have special events, lectors will be there reading in both English and Spanish.
“Many of the workers came, they didn’t have an education but they were educated through this reading of novels, of the politics of the world,” said Richard Gonzmart, CEO of Columbia Restaurant and honorary lector.
The company has spent two years restoring the cigar factory which now includes a stage for lectors, three-level cigar museum, and theater. 65,000 cigars are made a day by hand and with the original cigar machines that were built in the 1920’s.
The public is invited to take a tour and celebrate 111 years of the last operating cigar factory in Tampa.
“When you walk in this factory is like stepping back 100 years. If you love American history, you will love touring this factory,” said Newman.