Karl Kolpin 1936-2012 : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Karl Kolpin 1936-2012

Era comes to an end at Tinder Box International’s final founding member passes.

By Richard Carleton Hacker

With the passing of Karl Kolpin, 76, on March 14, from complications of pancreatic cancer, the final chapter has closed on what was California’s first family of tobacconists, and one of the driving forces behind what became America’s largest retail tobacco chain, The Tinder Box International Ltd.

Born in Santa Monica, Calif., on Feb. 18, 1936, Karl was the last of the three Kolpin family members involved in the creation of The Tinder Box chain. Five years earlier, he had been preceded in death by his brother, Edward A. Kolpin III, and later by his father, Edward A. Kolpin II.

Although it was Ed. Sr. , also known as “the old man,” who first established a pipe and tobacco-blending shop in 1928, it was his sons, Eddie and Karl, who, beginning in 1967, built the enterprise into a highly successful national chain of company-owned and franchised stores, selling both national brands and private-label pipes, cigars, gifts, accessories and tobaccos, as well as holding annual conventions and conducting retail training classes for store owners and managers, a practice that was unprecedented in the industry.

When I first met Karl in the 1960s, he and Eddie were working behind the counter at their father’s Wiltshire Boulevard pipe shop in Santa Monica (now known as Ed’s Pipe Shop), which had long been a haven for Hollywood’s celebrity pipe smokers. Over the years, Eddie and Karl expanded the company, and prior to its sale, they often traded off or shared the title of president.

One incident that reflected Karl’s unique style of management occurred when a customer phoned TBI’s Santa Monica headquarters, furious that one of his Tinder Box pipes had burned out. When the irate caller was unable to be appeased, Karl took the call, even though he was in the middle of a meeting. Leaning back in his chair, he propped his feet up on his desk, picked up the phone, and–after identifying himself as the president of Tinder Box International–proceeded to engage the customer in a lengthy conversation about his burnt-out pipe.

“I’m going to send you one of our top-of-the-line briars with our compliments,” Karl finally told the caller, “along with a pound of your favorite Tinder Box tobacco, because I want you to only have good memories when you’re smoking a Tinder Box pipe.”

Thus, he ended up making a life-long customer for the company.

In more recent years, Karl had owned Kolpin’s Cigar Co. in Woodland Hills, Calif., where his pipe and cigar expertise and outgoing personality attracted numerous loyal customers. He is survived by his wife, Jean, and three children, Sharon, Karl and Kary, plus seven grandchildren, one great-granddaughter, three step children, two step-grandchildren, and a nephew.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Karl’s favorite charity, The Wounded Warrior Project: www.woundedwarriorproject.org.

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Category: Fall 2012

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