Friday, August 20, 2010


Nearly a month ago the local tobacconist decided that people should not smoke. Or at least, not smoke at the shop. This wasn't because of some dictat from San Francisco's city fathers (tobacconists had been specifically grandfathered in), they just didn't like their customers.

Three years ago they had installed comfy chairs and televisions to encourage people to spend time and money at the store. Now they have removed all chairs save two, and imposed a rule that ONLY folks who spend a minimum of twenty five dollars per day can smoke there. Only two customers at a time. If they smoke what they bought that day.

Otherwise just pay and leave.

That excludes most of us. Even the cigar aficionados.

We patronized the place purely because we wished to support a local tobacconist, where we could smoke without being harassed by the vicious wheat-germ snarfing anti-tobacco healthnazi Berkeleyite earthmoms so common on the streets of San Francisco.

[Five days a week, for over five years, I would head around the corner with my pipe in my mouth, to purchase a box of cigarillos at the store. Often I ended up buying several tins of tobacco there too - much of my personal stockpile was purchased locally - and I have also acquired over a score of pipes from them.]

If we are not welcome, why should we patronize them?

A tin of pipe tobacco which sells for $17.95 in San Francisco is only nine dollars by parcel post, and cigar smokers can save nearly seventy percent by not shopping locally.
Yes, we cannot smoke in 'Parcel Post' (there is no actual place named 'Parcel Post', alas) - but we can't smoke at the tobacconist either.
The pleasure of shopping in SF is, perhaps, not worth the extra money - certainly not when the pleasure isn't pleasant.

There are several reputable tobacconists on the internet.
They will welcome your business.


Four Noggins

Cup o Joes

Pipes & Cigars dot com

All three of these internet merchants are reliable and have excellent selections of pipe tobaccos. The first one listed ships orders by next day post.


Vermont Pipes

Pulvers Briar

Vermont Pipes (Pipeworks & Wilke) has a good selection of house blends in addition to pieces of wood, and offers a number of other services like repair and restoration. Carol, the proprietor, knows her stuff, and has been selling pipes and tobacco to an appreciative clientele for decades. Her blends are highly rated.

Pulvers Briar (Marty Pulvers) is how the previous owner of Sherlock's haven keeps himself entertained now that he's retired. In addition to being one of the most knowledgeable fellows in the business, Marty is also a witty and beloved fixture of the Bay Area tobacco scene - many of us fondly remember afternoons at his shop turning the air of the financial district blue in good company. If you need a fine collectible from one of the famous pipe makers of the past, he's your man.


Decades ago Craig Tarler acquired a tobacco company named after an exotic dancer (the wife of the previous owner). After changing the name to Cornell & Diehl he packed the entire shebang up and moved to the country with his wife. He's been manufacturing and inventing fine blends ever since. For several years now he has been producing Greg Pease's blends also.

Both Craig and Greg have experimented in recent years with pressed tobaccos, to extraordinary effect; I am staggered by the results, and highly recommend what they do.
Bear in mind that I have always been a smoker of traditional English blends - Greg's Westminster and Craig's Red Odessa are among my favourites - but dammit, these flakes are fine stuff.

Cornell & Diehl and GLPease tobaccos can be bought from Craig at the internet site shown above. You can also discuss your order with him - he wants to make sure you get something that makes you happy.

All of the on-line entities listed above will smile, say hello to you all, take your money ("thank you!") and provide compensatory merchandise for the pleasure of taking your money.
It isn't complicated.

Times have changed, boys and girls. We can no longer rely on local tobacconists.
Feel free to patronize the internet instead. Spend your money wisely.



It could be argued that 'pay-up-and-piss-off' is normal for the retail trade. But when all your customers are aware that they can get what they want over the internet for considerably less, and far more reliably besides, that is no longer strictly true.

Additionally, when most of the customers know more about the merchandise than the merchant, and are graciously willing to put up with shortages entirely unknown on the internet, there has to be something to pull the people in - mere convenience does not prompt daily spending.

[Perhaps mere convenience does work for cigarette smokers - but they had already been chased away two years ago. "We don't sell cigarettes, snnnnfff!"]

The joy of discovering new things, too, was not a factor, as frequently customers would ask about very well-known products with which the owners were not familiar, and with which they intended to remain unfamiliar.

The respite of sanctuary kept us coming in; the glow of other times made us overlook interpersonal ineptness and occasional uncomfortable moments.
But it has gone beyond that.


NOTE: If you wish, you may contact me directly:

All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


Tzipporah said...

Wait, I thought you were one of the people complaining about the weirdos who hung out there. Are you objecting on principle, or did you actually want to sit in one of those chairs and smoke?

The back of the hill said...

Initially when they broached the subject to me, it sounded like they wanted to make sure that I knew that the new policy would not affect me - they were keen to keep me as a customer, and keep me happy. And at that time it seemed like they genuinely needed to make more space for more merchandise.
Since then they changed their policy - the daily minimum, for one thing, was clearly intended to kick us all out. $25.00? What on earth? Do you REALLY expect us to fork over $25.00 per day? Additionally, it has become clear that they simply want all of us to piss off. Hand over your money, Jack, and goodbye. In the words of another pipe-smoker, "I felt distinctly unwelcomed".

As far as the weirdoes are concerned, it's a question of timing. And now that they have nowhere to sit, a number of them just don't congregate. Yes, there's always a coterie at the motorbike wall around midday. But if I time it just right, I don't have to be exposed to more than a minor amount of madness.

The back of the hill said...

Besides, the gaggle effect usually happened after work – from five till seven there would be slightly more people than places to sit, the noise and smoke level would go up. My pipe-smoking time is mid-day, when I would often be the only customer there. Most of the time I just silently smoked, speaking only when pulled into a conversation. Quiet time, as it were. Quality time. At the price of a daily purchase.
If I cannot smoke there, why should I shop there? I can get the same products around the corner from my apartment for one or two dollars less from a courteous Jordanian gentleman, and for considerably less off the internet.

Anonymous said...

As one of the frequent customers/smokers, it was not only the change in store policy, it was the extremely rude way many of us were treated at the time. Ranting and raving at customers who were spending their money with you? Who needs it?

Not S. Peabody! said...

Extremely rude? More like insane. There’s dysfunctionality, and then there’s DYSFUNCTIONALITY.
Picking fights with people who spend money in your business is not normal behavior. Unless you are an alcoholic bar owner, of course. Then it might be both standard, and routinely ignored.

Anonymous said...

He isn’t exactly dysfunctional. He just works out his dating frustrations on customers. If some girl told him he was balding, everyone else has to pay.

Some other anonymous said...

Oh come on, Anonymous, that’s just mean! And we’ve seen enough domestic quarrels between the two of them there that we KNOW it isn’t true.

Anonymous, again said...

Slap me, bitch.

Anonymous said...

Well, that tobacconist is out of business now.
Just an empty store front on Market Street.

Ranting Joe Bee said...

Well, that's what happens when you work at not making friends AND don't have an actual lease.
Just month to month lets the landlord kick you out at will.

Sad, as they had been in that location for half a century, and the store had originally been founded shortly after the goldrush.

I wonder what Ted is doing now?

Gone Fishing, Fuck'm said...

I for one don't miss Ted and Joe in the slightest. Their selection was always mediocre at best, and between grim North England incommunicabilty and that bad tempered pissant quarrelsomeness from a runty second-rate weasely Texan carpetbagger, I only went in their once a month. When it rained.

Even when old man Grant ran it is was distant, off-putting, and snooty. And so much more so when Joe took over as the loud-mouth in charge. It was, in all ways, a piss-poor excuse for a tobacconist. No loss. At all.

Anonymous said...

Joe was almost always rude, arrogant, and flip. He managed to turn what should have been happy shopping into a grating and ignoble experience. I almost miss the place.

At Telfords in Marin they are at least glad to see me. A much better experience by far.
Better choices, too.

The back of the hill said...

"grim North England incommunicabilty"

Oh come now! Ted was a very decent sort, just a bit dry.

And if he was ever grim, it was because he had to put up with an awful lot.

Normally he had a rather delightful sense of humour.

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