Pipe lovers in Knoxville, Tennessee, have a homey retreat
by D.E. Johnson
Back in 2006, Dave Watson found himself getting ideas. For 33 years he’d been in the business of magazine and book distribution, but the time was fast approaching when he would be retired and in want of something new to do. Watson, who was a regional vice president for Anderson News Company, couldn’t shake the impulse to open his own business. He was sure that any business focused on excellent customer service would stand a fair chance of succeeding, and he wanted to prove it. So when his retirement day came around at last, Watson found new liberty to test that proposition. The form that test would take was Watson’s new life as a tobacconist: He bought the moribund Smoky’s Tobacco and Cigars shop in Knoxville, Tennessee, and lovers of the leaf in eastern Tennessee can well be grateful.
The tobacco business was not Watson’s first choice of second acts. He had considered going to Cincinnati to learn the Skyline Chili business in the hope of bringing back a franchise to Knoxville, where since 1983 he’d made his home with his wife, Jan. Fortunately for Knoxville’s appreciators of all things pipe and cigar, Watson’s last year with Anderson News saw him assigned to a company project in Virginia Beach. While there he frequented a shop called Tobacco Road, and he got to know the owners. They were planning to get out of the retail end of the business and offered to sell Watson the store. “I didn’t want to move to Virginia Beach,” says Watson, “but I started to see the potential in the tobacco business.”
Back home in Knoxville, Smoky’s was familiar territory to Watson. At the time, it was a small shop located in Montvue Center, a compact retail area located just off Interstate 40, a short drive from the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus. The shop, open since 1983, had declined through the years, something Watson had noticed and regretted.
“When I first started going to Smoky’s, it was a great little place,” he said. “It was small, but the stock was cleverly displayed. One time they had a wagon in the middle of the showroom with bales of hay and product arrayed on it. But over time the owner seemed to lose interest, and inventory dropped off.”
When Watson was ready to make the leap into new retirement adventures, he talked to the owner about Smoky’s—a conversation that led to an offer to sell, a successful negotiation and Watson’s new life as a local retailer. “When I took over the store in 2006,” Watson says, “it was at the point of closing. There was hardly any inventory. I could have packed it all in a single cardboard box. But I was sure that with good customer service I could make a go of it.”
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