I was looking through my personal pipe collection the other day, and came across my 1987 Tinder Box Christmas Pipe. This is a beautiful pipe (most likely made by Ardor, given the time period) that has significant sentimental value to me, and is ultimately a part of how The Pipe Nook was born. Here's the story, and a bit of discussion about online pipe retailers versus local brick and mortar stores.
In the Fall of 2015, I learned that the only remaining pipe store in the Pensacola, FL area (a Tinder Box location) would be closing its doors after Christmas. I was quite deflated to hear this news, since The Tinder Box had been a fixture in the mall since I was a child. For more than 35 years, it was managed by a great guy (Bobby), who commuted from Mobile, Alabama every day. Now both Bobby and the owner were looking to retire, and there just wasn't enough local interest to pass it on to another management team. Memories of the Tinder Box down through the years poured into my thoughts. I would walk by the storefront as a boy and be amazed by the sights and smells, the giant stuffed brown bear in the front window, and the guys smoking at the counter, swapping stories, sharing laughs. There was just something magical about the place. As a young man, I would visit and pick up cigars. It was always a friendly and helpful environment. When I finally figured out the pipe smoking thing, Bobby witnessed my cigar purchases dwindle while my pipe and pipe tobacco purchases increased. But time would be short for me to benefit from the pipe knowledge to be found therein.
Pipes and pipe tobaccos were probably only 25% of the Pensacola Tinder Box's overall sales, but it was the final place in town that still carried pipes of any kind. No, they didn't carry everything I wanted, but I did my best to support them as I could, and wound up making online purchases for other items of interest not available locally. I truly wanted to do my part to keep them in business, as I'd seen two other local cigar shops in recent years completely stop carrying pipes and tobaccos, and the downtown pipe shop, The Pipe Rack, had closed its doors. By the time The Pipe Rack had closed, they had pretty much become a general store in order to stay afloat, carrying newspapers, magazines, cigars, candy, snacks, drinks, and whatever else they could to stay in business. But it wasn't to be.
Pensacola is a medium-sized city, and I was certain that if the greater Pensacola area (more than 350,000 souls) didn't have enough pipe smokers to keep even one local pipe shop in business, there must be many in the same boat as myself whose only recourse, barring extensive travel, was to purchase their pipes and tobaccos online. Then, the idea sparked. I wanted to create a web store that had the feel of a brick and mortar, not a "big box" online outlet, and thus The Pipe Nook was born.
Every brand that I carry is a personal recommendation from me as a pipe smoker. It is never my intention to grow as large as the "Big Online Shops," so I'll never have everything. But what I do carry is tried and true in my book. And while I do appreciate some of those bigger online sellers, the sad truth is that at their level of sales, they can't help but take sales away from the local brick & mortar pipe shops.
My intention is not to compete with those local shops at all. What I'm trying to provide is a smaller, more personal option for those in cities and communities like my own that don't have a local purchasing option. I can't tell you how many times I've been traveling, looked up a pipe shop or two, and walked in the door only to find they only sell glass pipes. We all know those aren't tobacco pipes, so we'll not discuss those any further! But the sad truth is that in the vast majority of small to mid-sized towns and cities in America, there are no longer any legitimate pipe shops.
So, how do I try to make an online shop have the personal feel of a local brick & mortar? Well, the personal recommendation aspect is a big one. I will never carry any product simply because it's a "hot item" or just a commodity. Pipes and fine tobacco blends mean more to me than that. In addition, I maintain a "Pipe Clubs" page where people can find like-minded individuals in their own local communities. I'm hoping that this section grows over time! Beyond that, my Blog section and my YouTube channel provide a means of direct communication between myself and my customers, many of whom I can happily say have become friends.
One special note: If you do have a local pipe shop in your town, and if they provide good customer service and decent prices, by all means do what you can to support them! They are so few in number these days that to have one in your area is a wonderful thing that should be treasured!
So that's the "rest of the story" of The Pipe Nook. I hope to grow this business in the years to come, and to be part of what I hope will become a resurgence of the pipe smoking and pipe collecting hobby!
Keep 'em Lit,