Hearing that we were making a journey through Western Canada, and hearing that we would be in the area, G. A. Christian Bilou, one of our subscribers and a friend of Erin’s, told us excitedly that there was a place we just had to visit when we were in Sherwood Park; he told us he regularly drives up there from Calgary.
If you understood the area, you would realize that this is one hell of a recommendation. Sherwood Park is a nice, upper middle class suburb of Edmonton; but no one from Edmonton ever goes to Sherwood Park, and the people in Sherwood Park rarely go to Edmonton except to work. And even though Calgary and Edmonton are about two hours away from one another, the rivalry (perhaps even outright antipathy) between the two cities runs deep, and never the twain shall meet. If a Calgarian was driving to Sherwood Park, he would have to have a damn good reason.
It was a fine sunny day when we made it to Nottingham Cigarettes & Cigars, wedged into the back of a small mini-mall. I wasn’t encouraged by the frontage, to be honest. It looked a lot like that lousy place in Regina we visited. Nevertheless, I put aside my misgivings because Christian is a man of good taste, and we went in.
Inside was a totally different animal. The first sight that greeted us was a long aisle of humidors entirely filled with cigars. The front counter was nestled on the other side of it, in behind a display of cigar cutters and another one of chew. A friendly young man greeted us with respect as we entered, and Erin began his spiel, explaining that we wrote for a magazine and we’d like to take some pictures and do a review. The clerk, whose name was Akil, explained that he would have to call the owner, but she only lived a couple of blocks away and he was sure it wouldn’t be a problem.
Hearing the conversation, a customer asked Erin what cigars he recommended; Erin referred him to me. I have to admit, I rather enjoyed offering him my opinions and recommendations based on his budget requirements and what I have reviewed, and this gave me an opportunity to thoroughly peruse Nottingham’s humidors. They had everything from Meharis to Aging Rooms and Romeo et Juliettas. I was especially impressed by the wide variety of mid-level premium cigars, including the best selection of CAOs (I even found an OSA Sol, which has been completely out of stock everywhere within a hundred miles of me since Erin did his review, dammit) and Don Tomas cigars I’ve ever seen in one place; an entire humidor dedicated to habanos (real Cubans), and a special humidor, located across from the front counter, entirely stocked with Cigar Aficionado‘s top twenty-five cigars of the year in descending order.
In the meantime, Erin was chatting merrily with the clerk and gawking at the impressive selection of blended and tinned pipe tobaccos and equally impressive display cases full of pipes; especially their amazing meerschaum collection.
About then a vivacious, attractive coffee-skinned and sharp-eyed woman not much taller than myself arrived. This was the owner, Renu. She greeted us in the lively, expansive manner of a born extrovert and told us yes, she’d be delighted if we’d review the store, and yes we could take some pictures. She also told us a story about a competitor who was coming in to take pictures of their merchandise and go out and get what they had rather than do their own research; and from what I understand this is a fairly common tale from tobacconists and a real problem. I can’t understand why that would be necessary in the age of Google, but there you are. For that reason I tried not to do a lot of specific close-up pictures.
We chattered away for probably about an hour. During that time, Renu addressed each customer who came in like a friend and knew all but one by name. She knew what they liked to smoke and she knew personal details, asking about their families and so forth. To one woman buying cigarettes she exclaimed, “I thought you quit!” (how many tobacconists do you know who would be encouraging their customers to quit if that’s what they decided they wanted to do?) The woman laughed and said, “Yeah, well, that didn’t work out so well.” To which Renu replied, “Well, better luck next time.” I suppose this wasn’t as altruistic as it seemed because Nottingham also sells a variety of smoking cessation products, including e-cigarettes and juices for them, but it impressed me nonetheless.
Nottingham has been in business for about five years and it’s a family affair, starting from her grandmother down, who suggested that tobacco was a good line of work to get into because it would have a good financial return, and informed by Renu’s husband’s taste for the finer things in life. She was proud of their tradition of customer service and assured me that their clientele are their friends; and after what I saw, I did not doubt it in the least. She was also proud that their customers came from as far as Camrose and all over the area, and that they made a point of finding what their clientele needed. She said that because she lived close by she didn’t mind coming down to open up if someone had come a distance and it was after-hours; but with three employees and business hours from 9 am to 10 pm seven days a week, I doubt it happens often!
Another significant point of note is that Nottingham does regular cigar events. In addition to being considered one of the premier habano sellers in Canada, they are one of the first choice venues for the habano roller events (and they also hosted Sr. Renier Borroto Morales when he came through this summer). They also do regular cigar dinners. Renu spoke cheerfully about the last one, which was “Cuban night,” which included a full tapas meal, a live Cuban band, and three Cuban cigars (Montecristo, Vigaros and Park Allen) for a mere $100! Renu was adamant that her events were strictly co-ed, and as a matter of fact, if their wives weren’t allowed to come, then “the boys” weren’t either (she does have a couple of female cigar smokers among her regular clientele, but we’re the exception, not the rule).
Renu’s regulars are known colloquially as “the boys” and she speaks of them with real affection. She has a phone tree and an email list about events and shop news. I joined it, just in case I happened to be in the Edmonton area the next time she hosted an event. At $100, considering everything that’s included, I couldn’t afford not to participate! I am sure anyone in the area who enjoys a good cigar and knows about it, feels the same way.
One interesting point of note is that neither Renu, nor any member of the family, actually smokes. They just developed a personal relationship with their customers, listened to what they had to say, and paid attention to their feedback. I rather liked Renu personally and I see why her band of merry men, “the boys,” are so devoted.
I don’t do “star ratings” for tobacconists, but I suppose the best recommendation I get offer is that if I lived within a few hours of Sherwood Park, this is the tobacconist I would frequent. However, unfortunately I find that twelve hours is just too long a drive to make that feasible.
You will find Nottingham at Nottingham Center, #210 664 Wye Rd., Sherwood Park, Alberta; phone 780-570-5424; fax 780-570-5422; website www.nottinghamcigaretteandcigar.com.
So thanks Christian! We appreciate the suggestion, and to show you our gratitude, we’ve got a cool Smoking Jacket Magazine official hat coming your way.
And that’s a lady’s perspective!