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Neros Cigars offers smokers respite

"That's where you're wrong," Tony replied, pointing to the kitchen window. "Out there, it's the'90s. In this house, it's 1954. No talking about sex at the table!"

At Nero's Cigars, you can discuss just about anything as long as you're careful not to offend the clientele. Even better, you can do it while enjoying a premium cigar without running afoul of New Jersey's smoking restrictions.

Owned and operated by Michael "Mikey Black" DeRago, Nero's combines the laid back atmosphere of your favorite taproom with the selection of a world-class tobacconist.

Nero's features more than 150 brands of cigars, so odds are you'll find your favorite smoke in your favorite size. And if you don't see it on the shelves, ask Mike to bring it in. If it's rolled, he can get it for you. Nero's also offers a full line of pipes, humidors, lighters, carrying cases and other smoking accessories.

Despite the wide selection of products, DeRago prides his shop on its friendly environment.

"People can go anywhere to buy cigars. But this business is all about relationships. We want people to come back in after their first time," DeRago said.

To facilitate return business, DeRago rolls out a spate of amenities he feels sets Nero's apart from other South Jersey tobacconists. They include a lounge with two LCD flat screen TVs, an eclectic CD collection to suit any musical taste, cigar lockers ($225 a year) and a refrigerator which patrons can use to keep beer, wine or soft drinks.

"You can come in here, have a drink, a cigar and watch a game or just shoot the breeze with your friends, for free. You used to be able to do that in bars and clubs, but you can't anymore. Most guys that come in here aren't even allowed to smoke at home. You can't smoke anywhere. But you can smoke at Nero's."

This type of "oasis" was exactly what DeRago, 39, had in mind when he opened Nero's doors in June, 2004, with the help and support of fiancee Denise Robson. The vision was fueled by the camaraderie he developed with customers as a sales associate of Groucho's Cigars, formerly of Haddonfield.

"At Groucho's, we had something very special - a core of regular customers, who all became friendly. They were good customers and good guys, and I wanted to keep that alive after Groucho's closed."

Less than six months after his former employer closed shop, DeRago hit the bricks in search of a location for his own shop. His quest took him to Cherry Hill, Marlton and Maple Shade and eventually back to Haddonfield - and he couldn't be happier with Nero's location. "Lot's of foot traffic to go with the repeat business," he said with a smile.

But DeRago brought more than a penchant for good times from his previous position. Nero's regular schedule of on-site tastings, rollings and other events are evidence of his marketing savvy.

For example: On May 18, Nero's will host a Rocky Patel cigar tasting that features Joe Gannascoli (better known as Vito Spatafore from The Sopranos), who'll sign his new book "A Meal to Die For." The event is free and kicks off at 4 p.m. Buy a box of Rocky Patel cigars and get eight sticks free. Buy three Patels and get a fourth free.

Don't want to wait until May for a deal? No sweat. Just stop by any Wednesday. Purchase four cigars and get a fifth of equal or less value for free.

Source: Haddon Herald