Wednesday, 14 March 2007 15:16

Pipe Shops - A Reflection

3-14-07: Pipe Shops (a reflection)
Any time I'm near a city of any size I look for pipe shops. Often a pipe shop visit is an education, especially if they have any super high grades (rare) or any hand made pipes at all. Getting to see, hands on, the work of other pipe makers, is always interesting. If I find myself in the kind of shop I really love--then the visit involves lighting up and enjoying some excellent conversation, and then I'll no doubt stock up on tobacco, cleaners, and maybe some butane or other accessories. I rarely buy pipes any more--I'm mostly smoking my own mistakes, or pipes too flawed to sell.

Unfortunately it seems most of the great old pipe shops that were fun to hang out in are gone, or drastically scaled back. Pipe shows are great, but they are few and far between. Creating a good hang is where I think the B&Ms could really earn back a portion of our business from the on-line merchants.

Most B&Ms are hard pressed to compete with E-tobacconists on the basis of price or selection, but they can provide a place to fellowship with other enthusiasts--a few comfy chairs or a counter to lean on, ashtrays, some P&T mags, books, or some hodgepodge of newsletters strewn around, along with maybe offering customers coffee or making it easy to buy some sort of beverage really goes a long way with me. I especially appreciate an invitation to fill up my pipe with one of the house blends and light up! If I get an invite to try something I'll always end up making a purchase of some sort.

More cities and municipalities are going smokeless, but there is often an exception if an establishment's main business is selling tobacco products. The B&Ms should take full advantage of being one of the few remaining places to smoke pipes and cigars in public. Some B&Ms are really making an all out effort in this area. I suspect it has or will pay big dividends in increased sales and customer loyalty.

I had a little spare time in a big city recently, and was looking for a good hang. I stopped into three different B&Ms. One had a few chairs, but was more of a cigar place, and the TV was blaring away. I had no feeling of welcome in spite of hanging around the pipes & tobaccos for a while.... Another was a total wash. I verified my previous decision about the best pipe and tobacco shop in town (BTW, it's not the biggest one, or the one with the best selection, or the one with the best rep, but an interesting shop with a cool vibe to it--small, but with lots of pipes at all price points, lots of tobacco, and fair prices). I bought a couple of tins of Frog Morton and some Bulls Eye (they had it in bulk), and a poach. In spite of enjoying the shop I did not get that welcome to hang out vibe, nor was I invited to fill up, in spite of obviously holding and occasionally sucking on my empty pipe. The owner was there, and waited on me very courteously, but seemed pre-occupied. Maybe it was just a bad day. A clerk in the shop was not into it, to say the least, and the owner mumbled something about being about to fire her. I'll go in again, but I'll have my pipe filled this time, and won't put as many quarters in the parking meter.

I had a great hang in a different town one day. This was in Memphis at The Tobacco Corner. I highly recommend it if you're ever in town. The owner has a collection of something like 50 Blue Ribands--many of them unsmoked. After I established some cred, he dove into his stash and brought out some great pieces to show me. The place was packed with hanger outers all smoking pipes and cigars, and well staffed, and they were doing a very brisk business. They had some sort of sale going on, and I was able to pick up a couple of old tins of Mixture #24 with some age to them at a great price. They did not have a huge selection of pipes, but had some excellent choices at all price points. Not a great selection of tinned tobaccos either, but what they did have was the hang out I'm always looking for, and that is worth much more than money. It was a real pleasure to spend some of my hard earned there.