An Imagined Visit to an Old Tobacco shop

Blog by Steve Laug

I would have loved to visit Offterdinger Cigar Store in Washington, D.C. pictured in the photo below from 1926. It is the kind of shop that I can only imagine and also one that reminds me of the way the Old Morris Tobacconist Shop looked like when I first visited it in my teen years. Sadly this kind of shop is long gone and is a memory for only those of us who have had the pleasure of visiting them. The difference between the two shops during that era really is the addition of the soda fountain in the D.C. shop. It is almost like the fountain was added to keep the family busy while dad was picking up his cigars and pipe tobacco for the week. It must have been a hopping shop on the weekends with many families wandering through picking up their parcels. The days of this kind of tobacco shop are sadly a thing of the past in most places. Places that are dedicated to pipes, tobacco and cigars have all but disappeared to be replaced by head shops and glass pipe shops. I thought it might be interesting to let my imagination wander through this shop for a bit and try to capture some of the feel of this kind of shop. So it is with that intent that I write this blog. Let the story begin.

The bell over the door rang to announce my entrance to the shop. I walked into the store and took in the sights of the room. (I do this in real life as well!) The loft at back overlooking the shop seemed to be the business center of the shop. It had the accountant and manager/owner at work balancing accounts, dealing with payroll and placing orders with distributors. I would love to have been able to listen in on their conversation as I watched them from below.

To my right the wall of the shop was lined with glass doored cupboards filled with an amazing assortment of cigars, all boxed, sealed and ready to be purchased. From the empty spots that can be seen through the glass doors it was obvious that the shop did a brisk business. To the left of the cash register the glass counter top and display units in front of the cupboards had more cigars that appeared to be sold as singles. There is a brass spittoon on the floor in front of the display case which leads me to believe that they also carried chewing tobacco. There was also a display of pipes, pipe and cigar cases and other assorted accessories on the right side of the register. There were no ashtrays visible on the counter tops which made me wonder.

Further down the right side toward the back of the shop is a counter where drinks could be ordered. It appears to be a traditional soda fountain with dispensers on the counter top. The women standing at the counter has a drink (coffee/tea/soda) in her right hand. There are coffee and tea urns on the wall behind the fountain. There is the traditionally clothed “soda jerk” standing behind the counter to serve customers who seek some refreshment. At the moment the photo was taken he appears to be engaged in a conversation with the fellow at the end of the counter and the woman in front of the counter. I can’t help but wonder what they are talking about.

At the back of the shop there closed room with glass doors under the balcony. The shelving on the right wall could be where single cigars were kept and customers could enter and pick a cigar of their preference. Or perhaps it is a small smoking room with chairs and the illusive ashtrays where a pipe or cigar man could relax with a drink and enjoy his purchase. Personally I lean toward it being a smoking room as the right wall cupboards and the display cases to the left of the cash register are filled with cigars.

I turn to my left and take in the cupboards on the wall. Though the left side is not totally visible in the above photo it looks like there are cupboards and display units on that wall at the far end of the room. These cupboards displayed and housed the shops pipe tobacco – both tins and bulk jars. There was a narrow shelf at waist level across the unit that held the jars of bulk tobacco. I The wall units also housed individual pipes on display so that they could be viewed and then taken out by shop salesmen for the potential buyer to study and choose.

All of this was taken in as I stood in the doorway of the shop letting my eyes travel the breadth and depth of the store. It was a compact little shop that seemed to do a brisk business and catered to the needs of the smoker. I was brought out of my reflections by a warm greeting called out to me by the gent behind the cash register. He welcomed me to Offterdingers and asked if he could help me with anything. He commented that since I was a newcomer to the shop he was at my service to make the experience a good one.

He saw the pipe in my mouth and surmised from the smells of the smoke billowing from the bowl that I was smoking an English blend. He knew his stuff because he could immediately tell me the constituent tobaccos in the blend. He asked if would like to try one of the shop’s English blends and when I said yes, he reached under the counter and placed and ashtray on the top for the dottle from my pipe. When that was finished the ashtray went back into hiding and he walked with me over to the left side of the store where the bulk blends were kept. He took down a jar of the house English blend an opened the lid so I could smell it. He gave me enough to fill a bowl and directed me to the smoking room to try it out.

I tamped the bowl and lit it with a match provided on the table in the room. I sat back and let myself by carried away be the multidimensional blend that had been provided. I sipped it slowly and thoroughly enjoyed the smoke. After about 30 minutes or so I headed back to the counter and talked with the clerk. I decided to purchase 100 grams of the blend. I bought a roll up pouch at the same  so I had him fill the pouch with the blend for me. He weighed it out on the scale and with a pinch extra he tipped the tray on the scale into the pouch. We walked to the register and I paid the bill. Before I left he offered to refill the bowl so I could enjoy a pipe while I walked. I refilled my pipe, lit it with a match and headed out the door. I would indeed come back again.

Oh how I wish these old style shops still existed where the pipe and cigar smoker were a mere fringe element of society but where their enjoyment of the leaf was celebrated. I can still visit these shops in my mind because over the years I have actually visited them. Hopefully some of you also have fond and vivid memories of such shops…

3 thoughts on “An Imagined Visit to an Old Tobacco shop

  1. ThePipeSteward - Dal in Bulgaria

    I could almost smell the aromas of the tobaccos through the descriptions. Thanks, Steve. Yes, imagination is all that we have now.


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