Pipe smokers’ paradise

A great spot to grab a six-pack, a bottle of wine and a few tins of tobacco

By T.S. Donahue

pipepint1

A pipe shop should smell a certain way. It’s the blending together of all those different sweet tobaccos, creating that tantalizing olfactory experience that can only be found inside a good tobacconist. For a lot of pipe smokers, it’s the scent of excitement. It’s the first thing you notice when you step through the glass front door of The Pipe & Pint in Greensboro, N.C.

The Pipe & Pint is more a gathering place for its numerous customers than simply somewhere to purchase top-notch tobacco products, boutique cigars and a plethora of quality beer and wine. The Pipe & Pint is a remodeled 1925 farmhouse with a vast selection of pipes and tobaccos, 450 brands of beer and wine, more than 1,000 cigar facings in a nearly 150-square-foot humidor and the Tarheel State’s only My Father Cigars (MFC) Lounge. With only one allowed per state, the MFC lounges offer special perks to customers such as visits from the Garcia family and an exclusive cigar.

The Pipe & Pint owner Larry Christopher opened his original shop in February 1998, just down the road from his current location. He says the old store was performing wonderfully, but after nearly 13 years, it was time to upgrade. “That spot was good to me,” says Christopher in his humble, soft-spoken tone that makes customers feel at home. “I always dreamed of owning my own building; I’m not sure what held me back so long—just fear, I suppose.”

Another motivation for the move was the smoking ban in North Carolina. Christopher began to get some complaints from the neighboring store owners in the shopping center about the smoking inside the shop. “So, I just got extremely lucky and this building fell into my lap [not even a week into looking for a new location, the
converted-to-commercial-use farmhouse went up for sale]. We did most of the renovations ourselves, and [when] I say ourselves, I mean myself and some of my customers. Quite a few of them pitched in and we made it happen.”

Purchased in March 2010, the 1,800-square-foot, two-story house underwent seven months of renovations. “When I bought the property, it had been neglected for awhile. It had been vacant for close to a year, and the property had been let go,” Christopher explains. “The customers helped in every imaginable way, whether it was with the bricks and mortar, patching up concrete to raking up leaves and trimming tree limbs, even putting down tile. I have tried a couple of times but haven’t really found a way to truly repay them for what they did for me, but I won’t forget it.”

Christopher says pipes and cigars go together like peanut butter and jelly. Being a pipe or cigar aficionado are hobbies that share the same roots, and he considers himself a connoisseur of both. “Pipes, cigars, tobacco and all that goes with it, the hobby is interrelated as far as I’m concerned,” he says. “Smoking a pipe is one of the few things in modern life that hasn’t changed in 150 to 200 years or more. A cigar is much the same way; it forces you to relax. There are not many other things in this world that you can say that about.”

Many of The Pipe & Pint’s customers are avid fans of both cigars and pipes, and Christopher enjoys seeing more and more people experiencing both. “I have not known many pipe smokers who wouldn’t try a cigar, and almost every cigar smoker—and I know from my experiences here—will at some point try a pipe. Sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t,” he says. “To me, a pipe is more convenient. Every night, after work, I sit down and smoke my pipe. I look forward to it. That’s the way I unwind from the day. I love a good cigar, too, and when I have an hour and I’m not doing something else, I’ll pick up a cigar.”

Larry Christopher

Larry Christopher

Christopher had always aspired to owning his own business, and a tobacco shop was his first choice. “I just felt comfortable in pipe and cigar shops. They just called to me for some reason, no matter which one it was,” he says cheerfully. “Some were homier than others, but I felt at ease with all of them and with the people who ran them.”

Coincidentally, his hometown was in need of a good tobacconist. “When I got out of college and came back to Greensboro, there wasn’t a pipe shop around,” he says. “The closest one of any kind was in Winston-Salem, so I was driving all the way to Winston-Salem to buy tobacco and look at pipes. I thought to myself, a city the size of Greensboro could surely support a pipe shop. I was determined to find out if that was true.”

True it was. The Pipe & Pint has seen steady growth every year since it opened 15 years ago. “I have been extremely fortunate that, for whatever reason, every year has been better than the previous year,” says Christopher. “We have had steady growth. It used to be I was sitting down watching tumbleweeds blow by. Now, sitting down is a rare treat. I know exactly what to attribute that to, too, and I have been extremely fortunate. It’s our customers; we consider them friends—no, family.”

Two of The Pipe & Pint’s most recognizable customers are pipemaker Trever Talbert and his wife, Emily. Trever says that one thing in particular sets The Pipe & Pint apart from its peers: “It’s the ambiance. It’s not just a case of pipes sitting in a corner that everyone ignores that I have seen in so many stores. This place is pipe-smoker heaven. I heard The Pipe & Pint was opening up, and I’m from Greensboro [he lives in Greensboro now, but is originally from nearby Thomasville], so I stopped by and just fell in love with it.”

Talbert explained that when he was younger and would visit various pipe shops, the staff didn’t make him feel very welcome. He always figured it was because he was young, and young people don’t know squat about pipe smoking. “I started smoking pipes in my early 20s, and I have heard from a lot of young guys the same thing I used to experience, and that is that when they walk into a pipe store, everyone has gray hair and dismisses them immediately. They felt like they were being treated like kids. Larry wasn’t like that; he was very friendly and welcoming.”

The Pipe & Pint, on average, carries 10 to 12 different pipemakers’ brands, with a few from local pipemakers like Van Catterall, Paul Tatum [both of whom have retired from pipemaking] and, of course, Talbert. “When I’m lucky enough to get any of Trever’s pipes, they sell pretty fast,” says Christopher. A sampling of other brands includes Erik Nørding, Dunhill, Savinelli and Ashton, and an arraypipepint3 of estate pipes. New pipes have always been a part of The Pipe & Pint inventory, and Christopher says he has always had a business interest in estate pipes, as well. “I have hundreds of pipes. I have a lot more pipes behind the counter and upstairs than I have in the store’s display case.”

The Pipe & Pint sells around 30 pipes a month. The least expensive pipe is $39.95 because Christopher says he refuses to carry anything lower in quality. He wants his customers to enjoy any pipe they purchase, so much so that he is giving pipe education classes across the counter daily. “Most common question: Why is a $50 pipe different from a $150 pipe? The answer is: It’s how the pipe is created, whether it’s handmade and the quality of the craftsmanship, it’s usually about an attention to detail. For example, a handmade briar and a machine-made briar, while both have their purpose and smoke great, a handmade briar is something special. Briar and meerschaum are my standards, but we also have some clay.”

As far as tobaccos go, The Pipe & Pint carries more than 80 different varieties of bulk, as well as four original-design house blends that have been around for 15 years and six newer house blends. These are all resting on shelves along the wall across from dozens of tins from Cornell & Diehl, Lane Ltd. and Dunhill, to name a few. Store Manager Pete Pike Jr. created five of the six newer house blends and has a few more still in the experimental stages. Christopher says he sources his bulk tobacco from standards such as McClelland, Mac Baren and some others. “House blends are like cooking. It’s a recipe. You try to create flavors people will like,” says Pike, who revels in creating unique tobacco blends. “You keep trying, and eventually you get something you think could really work.”

Selling more than 100 pounds of pipe tobacco a month, Christopher says Lane’s 1Q is a best-selling staple, while three of his house blends ($3.95/ oz.), Six Virginias, Magnolia Avenue and Bear Creek, sell very well. One of Pike’s creations, Grim Creeper, a strong blend that uses Perique and cigar tobacco, is so popular they can’t keep it in stock. “Pete doesn’t have any preconceived notions about what pipe tobacco should be,” says Christopher. “He’s not afraid to try something new. He’ll ask, ‘Why can’t I take these three Virginias and grind up a Nicaraguan cigar into it? Why can’t we put some Lakeland dark in it?’ Next thing you know, he’s made something we sell out of almost immediately.”

Talbert is a big fan of Pike’s blends, too. He says that he can really appreciate Pike’s irreverence for traditional methods of blending pipe tobaccos. “I have dealt with a lot of different blenders over the years; sometimes they become so specialized and sensitive that they end up turning out a bunch of stuff that kind of tastes the same. Pete doesn’t have that issue,” says Talbert. “He’s not afraid to experiment with virtually anything. I have to say, these things he’s creating taste a lot better than they may sound; it’s amazing. They have character and are really distinctive.”

Read the rest of the story by subscribing to Pipes and tobaccos magazine or the online digital edition.

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Category: Fall 2013, Feature Article

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