Nestled between the high-rises of midtown Manhattan on the avenue you I’m taking you to, 42nd street, stands a lone townhouse. The townhouse is home to the self-proclaimed tobacconist to the world, Nat Sherman. The company which was born during the great depression in the 1930s has managed to stay in business for over 80 years. It has, in a sense become an icon in the world of tobacco.
I lit up my first cigar 13 years ago and I will be the first I am still a little wet behind the ears. Perhaps it is because I have not ventured out and broadened my horizons. During these 13 years I have been to Nat Sherman a total of 4 times, including yesterday, despite living within 10 miles of the store. Even when an acquaintance worked there I found it hard to visit as the shop as it had a very old feel about it. Being 80 years old (the company, the shop has changed locations a few times) sometimes it is hard to age gracefully while holding on the the past. The store was set up in a way that unless you were a member of the very exclusive Johnson Club, you felt not welcomed. So much about the shop was not conducive to the cigar smoker. Cigars were kept behind locked cabinets, the common seating area consisted of a chair here and there that made it impossible to smoke with a couple of friends. Even the employees were rigid and uptight with the exception of one or two. This wasn’t really a shop that was a destination.
Perhaps, the Sherman family realized that the retail store had the appearance of a ship that was beginning to list. In April, they shocked the New York cigar scene and many of those outside when they tabbed Michael Herklots, formerly of Davidoff, to be the new Executive Director of Retail & Brand Development. The moves didn’t stop there as they hired Pat Felitti, formerly of Rothmann’s Steak House, to take on the role of Director of Retail Sales & Hospitality. The moves had me intrigued and when I was extended an invite to the shop I accepted as I was curious to see if they could right the ship.
The first thing I noticed upon walking into the shop was the people. At 6pm the store was bustling. The new public seating areas, complete with club style chairs were filled with men and women. In the hum of chatter filled shop, there were smiles, laughter and a sense of life about the place. I found myself smiling when I was greeted by Pat Felitti who instantly made me feel welcomed. As we chatted, we were joined by Michael Herklots and I was given a tour of the shop along with a friend who met up with me at the store.
The old shop was dark, and lacked color which gave it an antique like feel. To solve this issue the cabinets that housed cigars were opened and replaced with accessories. The closed drawers which housed Nat Sherman cigarettes were opened up and the colors of the boxes were on display. With news of the FDA looking to change the way shops do business it is obvious how much that can change things. All one to do is look at the old Nat Sherman in comparison to the new Nat Sherman. The biggest change however was the back room which used to be storage space. The room is now a walk in humidor with a large selection of top brands in the industry. Tatuaje, Davidoff, La Aurora, Drew Estate as well as Nat Sherman.
Upon the end of our tour we headed upstairs to the corporate offices and kicked back in the conference room with some adult beverages and discussed the future of the Nat Sherman. One item I brought up was how old the brand was. In my eyes, it is a cigar that caters to an older generation of smokers. In just the 13 years I have smoked the change has happened at a rapid pace in terms of what today’s consumer wants. It was at the point Michael Herklots let me know about his role in brand development. I was given samples of 2 new cigars that will be debuting in the near future. These cigars complete the transformation of Nat Sherman.
The new Nat Sherman manages to stay true to the storied past while making the changes to embrace today’s cigar smoker which is no easy task. It is obvious that the right choices were made to sail full steam ahead. Nat Sherman at 12 East 42nd Street in New York City is once again a destination for every tobacco enthusiast.