Behind the Nat Sherman Cigar Empire
BY JOHN BOBEY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL TUREK
|Michele Sherman with her father, Joel|
When thinking of old New York, one image that surely comes to mind is the flannel-suited, fedora-wearing man about town with a cigar clenched between his teeth. He could be a newspaperman, a macher in the garment business, a Wall Street power broker, or Nat Sherman himself. “That picture was my grandfather,” says executive vice president Bill Sherman. “The hat, the cigar, the cashmere overcoat—that is who he was.”
The story of Nat Sherman—the man and the cigar empire he built—is as New York a story as you’ll ever hear. And after 80 years of providing premium smokes to the New Yorkers who love them, it’s a story whose most exciting chapters are being written right now.
A History In Smoke
In the early 1930s, Nat Sherman was a partner in a small cigar factory. When a friend of his was constructing a building at 1400 Broadway, the guy’s money ran out four stories short of completion. Nat loaned his friend the funds to finish the job, and as a way of repaying the favor, the friend asked, “How about I give you the store on the first floor?” recalls executive vice president Larry Sherman. “My grandfather said, ‘Why don’t we start selling cigars?’ And so our story begins. Nat Sherman’s cigar store quickly became a hangout for Manhattan executives and showbiz types. Through the next 60 years (and a change of location to 711 Fifth Avenue), Nat Sherman flourished, introducing a line of cigarettes, the Havana Ovals, a cigar-tasting cigarette developed especially for a customer looking for an acceptable smoke while jetting through the cigar-unfriendly skies, and set the standard for super-premium cigars made from the world’s finest tobaccos.
By the late 1980s, Reagan-era prosperity helped fuel the cigar boom, but Nat Sherman’s health, and that of his company, was beginning to fail. Fortunately, there were Shermans in the wings ready to breath new life into the company. Nat’s son Joel took over the company as president and CEO, and Nat’s grandchildren Bill, Michele, and Larry got into the business as well. With the company stronger than ever, they moved to 500 Fifth Avenue in 1991 and incorporated a smoker’s lounge into the 7,000-square-foot retail space. Expanding on that idea, in 2007 Nat Sherman moved into “The Townhouse” at 12 East 42nd Street, their flagship store and a cathedral to the enjoyment of a good smoke in a clubby, luxury environment. The landmark epitomizes what Nat Sherman has come to represent in the new millennium—an indulgence to be savored.