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For Hal Rubin, opening a cigar shop in downtown Apex wasnt just another business opportunity. It was one more step in a journey.
Rubin, 57, opened Empire Cigars-The Vault on North Salem Street last month to share his passion for the cigar lifestyle.
The former New York native traded his job in finance to open his first shop in Raleigh several years ago. He hadnt planned on expanding to the quaint bedroom community of Apex.
When I saw downtown Apex, I fell in love, said Rubin, puffing on a cigar inside his shop. It reminds me of the small towns in Upstate New York. And the fact that this was a stand-alone building was just too good to pass up.
Rubin saw the 2,000-square-foot former bank building as a blank canvas. He transformed the banks old vault into a state-of-the-art walk-in humidor that can hold more than 1,000 cigars.
With three flat-screen televisions and large leather seats, the smoking area looks more like a cozy man-cave than a stuffy cigar hangout. Rubin also added a patio behind the building for outside smoking.
I had the opportunity to build the shop I really wanted here, said Rubin, who has been smoking premium handmade cigars for 20 years. I view this as a journey of discovery.
While some cigar stores focus on brands from the largest manufactures, Rubin has taken a different approach: building relationships with boutique cigar manufacturers. Hes become one of the top retailers in the country for budding brands like Tatuaje and Ortega.
I want others to discover all thats available throughout the world with respect to premium cigars, he said. I felt like this area was missing out on a lot of the great small boutique brands. We still carry all the standards, but I wanted to offer more of a selection.
Owning a cigar shop does not come without controversy. The health risks associated with tobacco use are well- known, and with government tightening smoking laws across the country, some cigar retailers fear sweeping changes for their industry.
Cigar smoking is different than cigarettes, Rubin said. Its generally done in moderation and is a celebratory product and has been for hundreds of years. Its a rights issue at this point. Nobody ever says, Lets meet up to enjoy a nice cigarette.
At Rubins shop, which celebrated its official grand opening on Saturday,people gather to watch sports or to chat about current events.
Its a diverse group, Rubin said. Its exciting to me to see the demographic changing. We have women who come in its not just a guy thing anymore. The stereotype is that this is for the conservative older guy, and thats just not true anymore.
With such a diverse group, disagreements are bound to pop up.
We do have some lively discussions in here, Rubin said. But its always civil. Its the Cheers atmosphere. This is a place to unwind after a hard days work. Id love it to become a central part of this town.