Blog by Steve Laug
A few years ago I literally stumbled upon a small unassuming little tobacco shop on Vancouver Island. I was on my way to some meetings in Victoria and stopped in Sidney, B.C. for breakfast and a bit of a walk. I parked on the street in front of this shop, turned off the engine on the car and got out. I looked up and saw this sign directly above my head on the shop in front of me. If that was not a serendipitous find I don’t know what is. My expectations were not very high in that most of the tobacco shops/smoke shops in B.C. are quasi head shops since the government has turned a blind eye to marijuana. The walls are almost all lined with bongs and water pipes and assorted blown glass and small wooden pot and hash pipes. So I was not expecting much more than I always found in the small villages and towns of B.C.
However, next to the window of the shop stood a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman holding a box of cigars in one gloved hand and a package of cigars in the other hand. On the base he stood on were the words “Finest Havanas” under the name of the shop. Hmm… maybe there was more to this shop than I had first expected. The Mountie stood to the left of a store window that held a display of pipes, racks and smoking items. As I looked through the window I thought that things were really looking up. I shook myself and pushed (or was it pulled) the front door open and checked out the inside of the shop from the doorway.
Inside the shop on my left as I went through the door was a display of corn cobs high on the wall above a framed print of a little boy dressed up like his dad and smoking a pipe. He held a smouldering match in his left hand and his right hand-held a long ceramic pipe in his mouth. To my right were a display case with pipes and a rack with some estate pipes. I could also see the backside of the window display. As I went deeper into the shop there was a long display case of the usual B.C. blown glass, ceramic and wooden carved pot pipes along with some bongs and hookahs but that was it. Past that my eye took in a multitude of pipe display cases, old wooden chairs with an ash tray and a wall of tobacco products. Toward the back against the walls were some well stocked humidors of cigars.
The display case next to the counter held Peterson pipes, including a set of Sherlock Holmes pipes. The shelves were crowded with pipe rests and racks and toward the bottom an assortment of lighters. There was even a unique cigar cutter that was surrounded by small guillotine cigar cutters.In the back of the shop was a display case of Zippo lighters underneath a large screen television with hockey playing. Next to that was a case with Brigham pipes, meerschaum pipes and a handmade display tray that held various brands of pipes. Next to that were a display of Colibri lighters and a rack of Cubita Cuban coffee. Sitting in front of an old humidor with cigars were two old chairs next to an ashtray. The first time I came into the shop there were several guys occupying those chairs enjoying a pipe and cigar. They were chatting with the owner Josh Burke. I was amazed to see folks enjoying a pipe and cigar while sitting in a shop and commented to Josh about it. He laughed and basically said “there is no one here smoking anything.” Directly across from the chairs was a display case of knives and behind it a cupboard of bulk bags of tobacco and shelves of cigarettes and cigarillos. The shop smelled like an old-time tobacco shop. The smells of smoked and unsmoked tobacco filled the room. There was the mixture of Virginias, Latakias and cigars that gave the shop that amazing odor that I have always associated with tobacco shops and by and large has been lost with all of the new regulations. I was hooked. Each time I am on the island I stop by for a visit and pick up some tobacco. As you walk back toward the door, past the display case of Petersons and the sales counter you see a wall of tobacco products. There are tins of Dunhill, Peterson, MacBaren, Brigham, Solani and other tobaccos that Josh carries. Underneath them are many jars of bulk tobacco sorted by blend – English, Balkan, Virginia, Virginia Perique and a wide assortment of aromatics with flavours that sound like a candy or ice cream shop. There are flake and ribbon tobaccos and broken flake as well. Included on the lower shelves were containers of cigarette tobacco for the roll your own smoker. The wall is covered with options for the pipe smoker. The only detriment to purchasing a lot of tins or bulk is the crazy Canadian cost – $31 for 50 grams of bulk pipe tobacco and between $35 and $45 for tins. Though the prices are high to those of you who are reading who come from the US, the fact is that they are quite good for Canada. I picked up a tin of Capstan yesterday when I was there and it was $45. (Forgive the blurry picture. I debated on whether to include it but it still gives you an idea of the wall of options.) The second photo below shows the back of Josh the owner as he is finishing a sale with a customer. It is always a pleasure to stop by the shop in Sidney and pass some time with Josh. He is a knowledgeable pipe smoker himself and is great to visit with. You should make sure you stop by for a visit the next time you visit the island. The shop is on the right side of the main street in Sidney. There is parking behind and on the street in front of the shop. You won’t be disappointed by you decision to stop by for a visit. The shop is located at 2423 Beacon Ave #105 and the phone number is (250) 655-1556.