Smoking a cigar is good, but puffing with a pal is even better.
That’s the philosophy of Tom Disbrow and Ron Potter, the new owners of That’s a Great Cigar Shoppe, the only cigar lounge in the city of Schenectady.
Every day, mostly in the evening, men tromp through the door of the former Wallace Armer hardware store, a circa 1880s building on Erie Boulevard. They sit in comfy chairs, light up and talk to each other.
“Businessmen, construction workers, plumbers. You name it, they come in. We even have a pastor that comes in,” says Disbrow.
Everyone is welcome, the owners say. “It doesn’t matter who you are. You are around other smokers. You have a common bond,” says Potter.
The men talk about the weather, business, politics and sports. And yes, sometimes they let loose about wives and girlfriends.
“It’s laughing, joking, busting each other’s chops,” Potter says. “It’s the ultimate man cave, with women welcome.”
Under the original 14-foot-high pressed tin ceiling, the 1,700 square-foot shop and lounge is spacious and testosterone-charged. On every wall, there are taxidermied hunting mounts — deer heads, pheasant, fish, duck and goose, even a bear’s head with a cigar in its mouth — or photos of cigar-chomping celebs, like Winston Churchill and Al Capone.
In the lounge, a couch and chairs are set near a fireplace, big TV screen and a shelf packed with hundreds of DVD movies.
“Most of them are guy movies,” says Disbrow. “No love stories here,” jokes Potter.
The cigars they sell, 100 different brands, are displayed in a walk-in humidor and a 24-foot-long cabinet. The shop and lounge are open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
When a Gazette reporter stopped in to chat, Disbrow and Potter sat at a poker table and leisurely smoked cigars as they told their story.
The two men, who are friends as well as business partners, probably wouldn’t be in the cigar business if it weren’t for Paul Sickles.
They met 10 years ago in Sickles’ small cigar shop on State Street.
In 2009, looking for a bigger place, Sickles moved his business to the Wallace Armer building, which had been vacant for more than a decade, and spent $90,000 remodeling the first floor.
Last year, when Sickles decided to retire and move to Oregon, Disbrow, a retired Schenectady police officer, and Potter, a sergeant in the New York State Department of Corrections, bought the business.
The deal was inked in November and on Dec. 2 they held a grand re-opening, with 150 cigar lovers in attendance.
While their customers are all ages and a few are women, most are men over 30 or 40.
Many of them are husbands who are not allowed to smoke in their homes. “A lot of retired school teachers,” says Disbrow.
Alcohol and cigarette smoking are not allowed. “No one is worried about DWI,” says Potter.
Customers from Wolff’s Biergarten across the street will come in sometimes and have a cigar. And in the summer, they smoke their stogies outdoors at the Biergarten.
“We got Wi-Fi, we’ve got guys on laptops. We have people who read books. They play cards. You can watch football,” says Disbrow.
“And we’re going to try to do an event every month,” says Potter.
For the opening, representatives from Perdomo promoted their cigars, and they’ve had Alec Bradley and PDR events. The next event, on March 15, is a Meier & Dutch promotion for CAO Extreme and Punch Bareknuckle brands.
Cigars for warriors
The shop participates in Cigars for Warriors, a campaign in which smokers donate cigars that are shipped to U.S. soldiers abroad.
The new owners are also planning to transform an 800-square-foot back room into a semi-private lounge where smokers pay a fee to store their cigars in lockers.
Disbrow and Potter have both enjoyed cigars since their twenties.
“It helps me relax after a stressful day. There’s nothing like sitting and smoking a cigar,” says Potter.
A recovered alcoholic, he appreciates having a booze-free place to socialize.
“It’s a place to go and not think about drinking. It’s almost like AA. You’re going to meet people in this shop that have gone through the same thing,” Potter says.
“I enjoy a great cigar” and “the average cigar takes an hour to smoke,” says Disbrow.
“If you’re talking with friends, it takes longer.”
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197, [email protected] or on Twitter @bjorngazette.