Blog by Steve Laug
This past weekend I was in Gainesville, Georgia, near Atlanta for work. It was a long weekend and we put in a lot of hours doing an assessment for a new project. We arrived on Friday, worked all day Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Then on Tuesday we took the day off to kind of catch up on rest and also check out some of the places in the area on my list. We went to a couple of antique malls looking for pipes – I found a few. But I also had it on my list visit a local pipe shop. On a previous trip my friend had taken me to visit Smitty’s Cigar and Tobacco, located at 975 Dawsonville Hwy. I really wanted to go back and pick up some tobacco for a friend and add a few tins to my own cellar. Since they are open from 10am-8pm Monday through Saturday I was hoping to find some additions.
I was a bit worried about the shop still being there. The last time I was in town I visited the shop and met with Smitty. He had been proudly open for more than 20 years – serving the local people of Gainesville, Georgia, and those passing through. We had a great visit and chatted for over an hour as the shop was empty. We enjoyed a great visit and talked about the past age of pipe glory, the great time we had at pipe shows and all of the common friends we have had and still have in the hobby, both dead and living. He showed me photos with quite a few of the noteworthy pipe makers – Eric Nording, Jess Chonowitsch and others who he had hosted in his shop over the years. He showed me some of his Chonowitch pipes and a few of his others from his collection that he was selling. Looking around that day I honestly thought that the shop would be closed the next time I visited. The shop was worn and tired looking, the stock was dwindling, the tobacco options were low and the cigar market was no longer sustaining the shop. It had the look of a place heading toward closure in the very near future. I purchased several pouches of Smitty’s own blends – a Virginia/Cavendish and his own English tobacco. I enjoyed them throughout the past year and was hoping to replace them on this visit – if the shop still was open.
Can you imagine my surprise when we pulled into the parking lot on Tuesday afternoon? I sure did not know what to expect when we drove up. I am a bit of a pessimist so I was prepared to find the place either empty, a new business in the building or a For Lease sign in the window. What I was not prepared for was what sat in the strip mall parking lot. We drove into the McEver Shopping Plaza past Kohl’s and Bed Bath & Beyond and were greeted with the sight shown in the photo to the left. There were some blue tables and chairs on the patio outside the shop providing a spot for smokers to relax and enjoy a bowl or cigar. There were lights on in the shop, an open door and lots of folks visiting and staff serving them. The place was a living and thriving entity.
We went through the open door into the shop and were immediately greeted by the staff and the customers. The interior had been redecorated and it had a warm inviting look. My friend commented that he loved the smell of the shop. The folks smoking cigars laughed and blew some smoke towards him. They were standing, or sitting in the comfortable chairs along the window. We walked in on some story telling of some sort that always fills the air of pipe shops no matter where they are. The staff and guests welcomed us and continued to smoke their cigars and visiting.In the centre of the shop they had some soft leather chairs and tables for smokers to sit comfortably and enjoy a pipe or cigar. There was an old cigar store Indian standing next to the humidor on the right side of the shop. He had his hand on various boxes of cigars and was a great reminder of days long gone when these figures stood outside the shops welcoming guests into the respite of the tobacco shop. In today’s anti-tobacco/anti-smoking climate walking into the shop was like stepping back into time. Folks were sitting comfortably in chairs smoking cigars and the aromas of the smoke filled the place. My friend commented that the shop smelled good. To me the smells and the sight of the place reminded me of how much we have lost in our anti culture. These old time tobacco shops are becoming things of history. On the right as you walked past some of the chairs there was a counter with a variety of cigar cutters, pipe racks and humidors. There were magazines and of course the cash register. Just past that was the humidor – it was a large room lined with a wide range of cigars. I am not much of a cigar guy but from what I could see there was a large variety of top cigar brands that included Davidoff, Arturo Fuente, Opus X, Tatuaje, Illusione, La Flor Dominicana, Aging Room, Casa Magna Domus Magnus Montecristo, Royal Butera Vintage, Padron, Griffin, Ashton, and Diamond Crown. Across from the humidor, on the left wall were the display cases of pipes and tobaccos. In terms of pipes they carried both lower end shop pipes and a full range of Peterson pipes. They no longer had the estate pipes that were present the last time I visited the shop. There were some other brands but I did not pay a lot of attention to them as I was looking for tobacco this time around.I looked through the bulk tobaccos on the sideboard to the left of the door and made my way to the jars and tins. They had a full range of Briarworks tobaccos in the small 2 ounce canning jars. They had an assortment of McClelland Virginias – numbers 22-27 and Frog Morton blends. They had a lot of Gregory Pease’ tobaccos and some Dunhill and C&D blends. The prices on the tins averaged around $15-17 dollars which is still cheaper than what I pay in Canada. The clerk and I laughed over the taxes in Georgia on tobacco as compared with those in Vancouver.In the back of the shop along the right wall they had added a bar with wine and craft beers as well as soft drinks to accompany the smoke and add to the experience. I made my way to the back of the shop to have a look at it. They had done a great job on it. The top of the bar was made of a slab of polished and sealed wood. The wall behind was lined with the options that were available for libations and there was a stock cooler filled with craft beers.
I went to use the washroom in the back and on the way saw a rack of the clerk’s pipes, some of the tobaccos that he was smoking and a full buffing kit with buffers, polishes and wax. It seemed that they did some pipe polishing. I did not see any restoration tools so I am guessing they send that out. I went back to the front part of the shop and visited with two of the younger staff that day and we talked a lot about the various tobaccos they carried. One of the guys smoked a pipe and had some recommendations on the tobaccos they carried. I revisited the jarred and tinned tobacco and went through the various shop blends they had available to see what I would take home. The limitations on my purchase were two fold – dollars and the amount of tobacco I was allowed to carry back to Canada with me. I sorted through some of the tins and asked questions of the young pipeman who was sitting in the chair next to the tobacco. I picked the tobaccos I wanted to purchase as well as pipe cleaners took them to the counter on the front right side of the shop.I stood and talked a bit with one of the customers who was enjoying a nice Cuban Cohiba cigar. He was a friendly guy who helped give the shop a welcoming air.I took a photo of my purchases – they were put in a nice cord handled shopping bag and the clerk threw in a few pens, a sticker and a business card. I bought two bags of pipe cleaners, a tin of Pease Stonehenge Flake and a tin of McClellands Virginia No. 22. The photo also shows the pipes I picked up earlier that day at the antique malls. It was a great day of pipe hunting and the shop visit was a bonus. We ended our day with a great meal at Ted’s for Bison burgers, meatloaf and drinks. All in all it was a great end to our trip to Gainesville.When I got home I read through their website (http://www.smittyscigars.com/) and enjoyed the way it was set up and the photos. The site gives a great view of the shop and I can only say that it truly represents what is there. I also found this short video and have included it here as it introduces the new owner and gives a good idea of what the shop looked like the day I visited. Have a look.
As I close this shop visit blog I want to encourage you to visit this great tobacco shop that will bring back memories of an old time tobacconist you won’t want to miss this place. If you are too young to remember the old time tobacco shops then a visit here is even more important. Shops like this are becoming a thing of the past as time goes on. If you are in the Gainesville area for a visit or live nearby be sure to check them out. Plan on sitting and enjoying a cigar or a pipe, sip your favourite libation and jaw a while with the guests and staff. It is a great place.