“Genuine” Pipe Smokers Hang Loose

“Genuine” Pipe Smokers Hang Loose
The Morning Herald, Oct. 17, 1985

The tobacco is piled high.
Stuffed in clear glass jars are mounds of loose, sweet smelling black, brown, and golden flakes. Boxes of fat, hand-rolled cigars, imported and domestic are stacked in a special humidity controlled room. The wall behind the register is lined with the colorful cartons of scores of commercial cigarette brands.
The air is thick with mingling aromatic smells. Glass cases display the tools of the trade: mahogany-colored hand-carved pipes, soft leather pouches, gleaming cigarette cases and smooth brass lighters. Matchbooks are crammed into a jar. Metal racks hold soft cotton pipe cleaners and Bic lighters.

This is a smoker’s paradise.

On downtown main streets and suburban malls these are havens for the true lover of tobacco, smoke shops that, like the tobacco they sell, will not go away.
Amid the backdrop of intense anti-smoking campaigns by the U.S. surgeon general, the American Cancer Society, and other health organizations- “negative P.R.”, as one tobacconist calls it- the tobacco trade is changing, but it is not dying.
Smoke shop owners say cigarette sales may be down, but pipe tobacco and cigar sales are up.
“There’s never been that anti-attitude towards pipes or cigars,” says J.M. Boswell, owner of J.M. Boswell’s Pipe and Tobacco in Chambersburg, Pa. Boswell and other tobacco customers switch from cigarettes to pipes or cigars because of the more direct link between cigarettes and cancer.
But Boswell says health concern isn’t the only reason smokers have made the switch. With cigarettes ranging from $1 to $1.25 a pack, smokers who burn up seven to 14 packs a week are finding it’s a lot cheaper to buy a couple dollars worth of loose tobacco to puff on, Boswell says.
And while tobacco can be bought almost anywhere- grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations- shop keepers say other stores can’t offer what they do.
Firstly, smoke shops offer a wider variety of loose tobaccos and accessories, shop owners say. In addition, they say smoking is a very “personalized” habit. Smoke shops offer customers a place to browse as well as pick up additional background and know-how for pipe and cigar smoking.
Smoke shop prices run the price gamut from $5.95 specials made from flawed briar wood to $100 pipes of carved meerschaum- a white organic material- to $400 pipes hand carved in the shape of animals or human faces.
Hundreds of pipes are on display at The Smoke Shop, Widmer’s, and Boswell’s.
In Chambersburg, 28-year-old Boswell, who’s been in the business since he was 17, makes hand carved pipes at his Main Street shop. Last year he made between 3,000 and 5,000 pipes and shipped them throughout the country.
Smoke shops are good places for smokers to find the tobacco blend they want. Most smoke shops sell commercial varieties of pipe tobacco as well as their own tobacco blends. Boswell sells 17 of his own specialty blends, and Phil Widmer, owner of Widmer’s Tobacco Shop at Valley Mall, sells 21. Most tobacconists will blend them to order.
For the cigar smoker, smoke shops offer the cheaper commercial varieties displayed in packages on the racks as well as more expensive varieties – domestics from Connecticut and Florida and imports from Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic – that are stored in humidor rooms.
Prices range from 10-cent American-made Swisher Sweets to $4 imports.

The pipe smoker is often thought of as a thinker. For the most part, that pipe smoker image still holds true, says Chambersburg smoke store owner J.M. Boswell, a pipe maker and pipe smoker. The image has been a long time in the making.
“Pipes have been around a couple hundred years,” Boswell says. Pipe smokers are calm people, he says.
“A true pipe smoker I’ve never seen uptight,” he says. “They always seem to take their pressure out on the pipe.”
While a chain cigarette smoker lights up when he gets nervous, Boswell says the pipe smoker fidgets with his pipe: cleans the bowl, stuffs in tobacco and lights it.
“The playtime that involved in it………takes your mind off the pressure,” he says.

It takes pipe smokers a while to feel comfortable with their pipes- they have to “break it in” or let the tobacco season it- but once they do, the pipe is never far from the smoker’s hand.
“It’s a secure feeling, smoking a pipe,” Boswell says. True pipe smokers “probably have it with them more than they’re with their wife of kid.”

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