It was announced this week that the 90 year old Nat Sherman International Company will be exiting the premium cigar market. Altria Group Inc., which acquired Nat Sherman in 2017, stated that by the end of September, they will exit the wholesale cigar business and will be shutting down the flagship Nat Sherman cigar store in Manhattan. Altria had plans to sell the the operation but were unable to find a buyer.
In a press release, General Manager and Managing Director for Nat Sherman, Jessica Pierucki stated:
“We worked hard to successfully transition Nat Sherman International to a new home. The Covid-19 pandemic created new challenges that were unfortunately too big to overcome.”
Michael Herklots, vice president of Nat Sherman International did his best to re-brand the Nat Sherman line over that past few years and noted in the press release:
“Leading what has become Nat Sherman International’s final chapter these last nine years has been the honor of a lifetime. We delivered our early goals of re-establishing the legacy of Nat Sherman International’s premium cigar business.
I will be forever grateful to all our employees, current and former, as well as our manufacturing partners, who left it all on the field day in and day out to grow this business throughout our 90-year history.
I am equally grateful to the incredible retailers, wholesalers, distributors, and consumers who have invested in our products and enjoyed them. Hopefully, our premium cigars will live on in the humidors of our greatest fans and appreciated with fond memories for many years to come.”
Altria Group Inc. will maintain the cigarette part of the portfolio, which they separated into a separate division after they acquired the company. Atria noted that premium cigars never really fit their mold and it was never the intent to keep the premium cigar line.
A Little Nat Sherman History
Nat Sherman International was founded in 1930 by Nat Sherman, who used the fortune he made from running a prominent speakeasy in New York City during the 1920s. He was introduced to the cigar world when he acquired half ownership of Traub Brothers and Bear, makers of the Epoca cigar brand. It is said that his son Joel speculated, Nat received that ownership as the settlement of a gambling debt. Nat eventually bought out his partner and became sole owner the Epoca brand.
When a New York real estate developer by the name of Abe Gubertz need more cash to complete a 38 story building at 1400 Broadway, Nat stepped in and proved a loan to him and eventually took residence in the lobby as partial payment. That set the wheels in motion for what was to become the Nat Sherman “Tobacconist to the World”. Prominent leaders in theater, fashion and politics frequented the establishment along with key members of organized crime. It is said the shop was neutral ground for the crime families.
Joel Sherman stated in a 2006 issue of Cigar Magazine,
“These people drank the best liquor, drove the most expensive cars, had the most beautiful women, and they smoked the best cigars. You’d find people from opposing crime families meeting in the store. They’d buy each other cigars while their bodyguards stood outside.“
Eventually the the company leased a shop at 711 Fifth Avenue in the 1976. It was a prize real estate property located near the Plaza Hotel and across from Tiffany & Company and was maintained as the flagship store until the 1990’s when they lost the lease. The company subsequently moved to their current location at 12 E 42nd St which is affectionately known as the Nat Sherman Townhouse, as it is a small three story building sandwiched between two high rise buildings. A beautiful work of architecture in the concrete jungle.
Nat Sherman the Innovator
When we think of the the cigar industry we don’t always consider the innovation aspects that went into it. I can think of a few great innovations, like Drew Estate Acid Cigars, the Litto Gomez Chisel Tip, the Barber Pole, but what you may not know, Nat Sherman introduced the plastic tipped cigar in 1950. It was called Sherman’s #25. Although he applied for a patent, it was never granted, but for 32 years the company marked it as patent pending and it kept the competition from jumping on board.
Sherman also pioneered cigarettes made from cigar tobacco and small cigars. It is said that the move was made at the request of an irate customer who had been unable to smoke a cigar on an airplane and who had specifically requested a cigarette which tasted like a cigar.
Not Without Controversy
Nat Sherman made headlines in 2018 when Altria Group Inc., the new owners, issued a letter to the FDA calling for no exemption for premium cigars with regard to the deeming regulations. It did not take long before cigar enthusiasts took to social media and called for an all out boycott of the brand along with retailers vowing to never carry the line again.
The Altria statement did not sit well with Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr. who wrote,
“I had a serious conversation with Michael Herklots of Nat Sherman at TAA in La Romana about this very issue for support of CRA and IPCPR. He assured me that this would never happen. That he had conversations with them and Altria was just as interested in Premium Cigars as anyone, and he assured me they would support our position.
I told him they were the problem but he assured me he knew everything. Guess what??? He was wrong and I was right.
Unbelievable what Big Dollars and the power of fancy lawyers can do so easily to convince a premium cigar man as brilliant as Michael Herklots of something that I believe is totally against his heart. Then just Imagine how easy it can be for Big Tobacco lobbyist to buy the conscious of Senators and Congressmen with their millions. I truly feel for Michael Herklots. He is truly one of the greats, knowledgeable, and passionate Premium spokesperson and leader of our industry. I just can’t imagine how he feels being betrayed like this. But… very common and seen over and over again when Big Corps buy family businesses. One less…and One Less Heart to cry for mom and pops.“
We Bid You Farewell Nat Sherman
It has been a long 90 years for Nat Sherman. Grown from the ages of the depression and prohibition to a world wide cigar brand. In the end, it was burned to ash by a company that should never have acquired them in the first place. Now, in the post FDA era, even such a renowned brand is of little interest to be acquired. I suppose there is still quite a bit of inventory to be sold, so now is the time to pick up what you can and save some, as they are no more.