Brick and mortar pipe stores are becoming more rare, and when we do see them, cigars tend to take center stage. I enjoy a good cigar as much as the next guy, but I reach for a pipe far more. My first reaction when walking into a local tobacco shop is, where’s the pipes? I can’t be the only person who wishes more quality pipe shops existed. But why? Why does it matter? Why would I want to visit a physical store when I can order most anything I want online and have it shipped to my door? I’m sure the opinions on this topic are legion, but here are a few of my own answers to this question…
B&M stores are meaningful in ways that online platforms cannot emulate in the digital world. A physical store presents a local flare, from the store owner to the environment to the clientele, the local pipe shop’s immediate interest is to serve the surrounding community. I’ve traveled to many of the top pipe shops around the country, and this is one thing they all have in common: local flare. It’s beautiful. The people and experiences that a local shop serves on a daily basis creates the shop’s heartbeat, a business life in touch with humanity. Online platforms can serve locally, of course. But it’s just not the same dynamic.
For us younger pipe smokers, B&M pipe shops connect us to prudent people we can learn from and celebrate. On a recent visit to Boswell’s in Chambersburg, PA, I experienced lively, exciting conversation with local pipe smokers. Admittedly the youngest participant, I mostly sat with the my pipe and listened to the pleasant conviviality, wishing I had something like this near home. This was a collection of smart, reflective gentlemen enjoying the fruits of their labors and friendships cultivated over time. It’s amazing what younger pipe smokers can learn from the more experienced if they simply be quiet and listen.
A good pipe shop reminds me of the old country stores that used to dot the rural American landscape. I’d rather smoke a pipe in a cornfield than a city park bench, so the country store comparison makes sense to me. Think about it: before the country became more urban than any healthy civilization should permit, most Americans worked in agriculture for a living and spent time with neighbors in two primary places, the local crossroads store and the local church. One could buy a favorite pipe tobacco, sit, play checkers, and talk with neighbors about family, crops, weather, and other topics of local interest. Such stores became part of the weekly routine, and represented a time when the pipe was not compartmentalized into a hobby. Pipe tobacco rested on the shelf next to denim breeches, beans, and cornmeal, an item that helped create the fabric of everyday life.
But a physical pipe shop doesn’t deserve to be relegated to the past. Pipe smokers need to support local tobacconists. If you’re one of the lucky few who live relatively close to a quality pipe shop, you’re quite fortunate. If not, it’s worth our time as pipe smokers to travel and visit good pipe shops when we are able. I think we can learn something from the way pipes and tobacco used to make it into our homes, through physical, local shops. Not all things new are better. Not all things old are useless.