by Bond Eddy
In this day of on-line dating, on-line legal advice, on-line degrees and on-line shopping we, the pipe smoking community, have been blessed with many on-line tobacconists. Many of these electronic retailers, sharing our love of the briar and leaf, have made it possible for us to order wonderful tobaccos and pipes from craftsman on the other side of the globe with a simple click of a mouse. This wonder of technology has opened our palates and wallets to a broader range of tobaccos that our fathers and grandfathers could ever have imagined but I believe it has also had the unfortunate effect of closing us off from the communal aspect of pipe smoking many of the previous generations shared at counter or the corner of their local tobacconist brick and mortar shop.
The bright light in this isolation is that this paucity of corner tobacconist makes us appreciate the ones we can still find. When we do open the doors of real tobacconist brick and mortar we often find a retreat from the hustle, bustle, noise and harshness of the world outside that until that moment we often didn’t know we so desperately needed.
I live in Cheyenne Wyoming, which is a small city of 62,448 on the windy American Plains. I acutely know what it feels like to look in vain for a local tobacconist, a real tobacconist. Our community supports two small smoking shops that specialize in cigarettes and their appurtenances. These “friendly” smoke shops try to cater to our local pipe smokers by stoking some Czech tools, pipe cleaners and some cheap pipe “pipe tobacco” that any experienced pipe smoker would classify as rolling tobacco labeled as pipe tobacco to avoid cigarette taxes.
We also have one wonderful little corner newsstand/bookstore that maintains a smallish stock of cigars, relabeled pipe tobaccos and some basket pipes. While the staff here are very nice and attentive people and by a generic definition could be labeled tobacconist as they sell tobacco products they in fact know nothing about pipes or cigars and they end up asking their pipe and cigar smoking customers more questions about their stock than they can reliably answer. I still stop in once in a while to buy basic supplies, a coffee and a book just to support local businesses.
If the truth were told in our area the nearest “real” brick and mortar pipe shop is about an hour south in Fort Collins Colorado. This shop is one of the Edward’s Pipe and Cigar Shops you may have run across in your travels in the States. Edward’s Pipes and Cigars is a chain pipe store and not a high-end tobacconist like you might find in Washington D.C., New York or London. I once went hunting around a neighborhood in Washington D.C. and found a little Tobacconist B&M tucked a way in a small storefront. I would have missed it if it hadn’t been for the matched set of silver banded and rimmed Peterson 2008 Pipes of The Year setting lonely and forgotten in the window. I walked in and found a little paradise of tobacco shop where raw tobacco leaves hung from the ceiling and the petite Somali owner was hand rolling cigars while an even dozen of her customers lounged in even available chair smoking cigars handmade for their particular preferences. My Edward’s isn’t that kind of a tobacco paradise, it is located in a strip mall by a gas station and a Chucky Cheese, but it is my tobacco store and I love it. Let me tell you why.
Let me begin with the basics. My tobacco store has all the things one must possess to create a passable tobacconist B&M. The store has a well-stocked humidor with a great selection of cigars and pipe tobacco, including store-branded tobaccos from Lane/Sutliff and McClelland as well as in-house blends created from McClelland base tobaccos. They have a great selection of pipes ranging from basket pipes, to their store line of Edward’s Algerian Briars to beautiful Artisan Pipes on consignment from the likes of Randy Willey (my favorite) and other well-known carvers. They have all the latest lighters, tobacco pouches, humidors, bags, and other accouterments you could possibly want.
All of this would be for naught if they didn’t have a lounge and boy do they have a lounge. Edward’s of Fort Collins has a spacious and inviting lounge with deep and comfortable leather-bound chairs and sofas located next to numerous power outlets if you wish to charge you electronic device and of course they offer free WiFi. Their ashtrays are always clean, numerous and collocated with plenty of matches and lighters available for customer use. They have a small Café Fumar in the back of the lounge available to make your favorite latte at a reasonable charge and free bottled water if you so desire because as smokers themselves they know being good and hydrated enables you to enjoy your tobacco all the better.
In the basement they have the pool table, poker table and darts boards to pass your time. They regularly host special tournaments and co-sponsored events with local breweries (Fort Collins and the Colorado Front Range is a Mecca for a good brew) and top-notch tobacco producers. My local Edward’s store in Fort Collins Colorado is in a word near as to perfect as you can get for a store that doesn’t have tobacco leaves hanging from the ceiling nor a proprietor hand rolling cigars to order as you come in the door.
With all of my raving I know some of you are anticipating a great big “but” in my flow of words and you would be right and here it comes. But, all that I just mentioned isn’t why I keep driving the hour down to Edward’s Pipe and Cigars in Fort Collins to buy tobacco, pipes and supplies instead just ordering everything off of the internet. I continue to patronize this B&M outside my local community because this tobacconist employs a real Tobacconist.
So what do I consider a tobacconist you may ask? Let me introduce you to an employee at this store named Paul. Paul has worked at the store for several years now and this job, which started as a way for him to make a little money while he was in college and support his enthusiastic pipe smoking has turned into a real passion. Paul has turned his part-time job into a considerable knowledge of tobacco and its wonderful uses. When a customer deals with Paul he will find a tobacconist willing to answer any question they may have about the product or its uses. He will go into great detail with a customer about the harvesting, aging, blending or even just general philosophy of a particular blender/maker of any given tobacco. In most tobacco stores you will find an employee who will tell the customer how much the item costs and at most give its nicotine hit, room note and popularity but not Paul.
If a customer is unsure about a blend of pipe tobacco Paul will open his personal locker in the store and break out a tin of the blend (chances are he has one open in his locker) or one of a blend close to the one in question and let the customer smell touch and debate the blend with all of his/her senses. Often Paul will offer a bowl full of the blend to the customer as a sample from his own personal stores just so they can see if they would like it or not. In most tobacco stores a customer is lucky if an employee will encourage them to buy something they are comfortable with or try something new in the same flavor profile and of course remind you that open tins are not refundable.
When customers walk in the door at Edward’s Paul often greets them by name and remembers their cigar/pipe tobacco preference and often makes a recommendation about a new product similar to something they have bought in the past. I found Kajun Kake this way and am in Paul’s debt for a long time for that off the cuff recommendation.
One of the things I love to watch a real tobacconist do the most is deal with new smokers. At Edward’s if a customer announces they are new to pipe/cigar smoking Paul takes the time to explain how to pick a pipe/cigar that will fit their style and preferences, the differences in tobacco flavor profiles, how to prepare a pipe for business (pack, tamp, light etc.). This stands in stark contrast to how new smokers are treated in many smoke shops where the staff, not being tobacconists will limit their advise to pointing out whatever products they have seen other new smokers buy or whatever is popular at the moment and offer little or no extra instruction on how to “do this pipe smoking thing.”
So why do I love my brick and mortar tobacconist Edward’s Pipe and Cigar in Ft Collins Colorado so much even if it is an hour away? I love it because it is the home of a real tobacconist. Because Paul is a man who takes pride in his craft and the time to share that passion with his customer be they an old regular who spends several thousand a year in the shop or a new youngster just starting out. I love my tobacconist because Paul is taking the time and effort to train the younger men and women under him to take the same pride and care with the tobacco and their customers. This attitude makes every stop at my tobacconist enjoyable and enlightening. Paul is a young man in his late 20’s (a far site younger than me) and when I stop we talk tobacco, we exchange pipe and tobacco knowledge and we smoke together as friends as we were meant to do. As our fathers and grandfathers did long before everything became on-line, before everything became easier, before everything became closer and before everything became so much more distant at the same time.
Bright Flames and Sweet Smokes