Kansas comet : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Kansas comet

Cigar & Tabac has created a loyal following among pipe connoisseurs in the heartland

by H. Lee Murphy

kansas1Pipemen take up the habit for all kinds of reasons, but Lyn Beyer’s was an unusual case. An undergraduate at the University of Missouri back in 1966, the khaki-clad Beyer (pronounced Buy-er) paid $14.95 to buy his father a Falcon pipe meant to serve as both a Christmas present and a means of weaning the old man away from his beloved cigarettes. His father never got to see the present—just before delivery he died of a heart attack at the age of 60. Lyn took the pipe on to school and smoked it as a sort of memorial to his father’s tobacco experiences.

“I could have returned that pipe and gotten my money back,” Beyer, who is 66 today, remembers. “But I figured that if it was meant for him and he couldn’t have it, then it was meant for me to have and smoke.”

He’s still smoking today, with a collection of more than 1,100 pipes that has grown so far beyond cataloguing that most are kept in 20-gallon plastic tubs at his home in suburban Kansas City. He has at least 60 unsmoked Savinelli Autographs and another 14 still-new Preben Holm creations. His tastes today run in favor of freehands, often with plateau tops in large sizes. Few people around the country have ever seen Beyer’s collection, because he attends few pipe shows and is reluctant to jump on to Internet chat lines to confer with other collectors about blends and vintages and carving styles.

kansas2And yet practically everybody with an enthusiasm for tobacco in Kansas City knows Beyer. He’s the proprietor of one of the heartland’s very best retail shops, Cigar & Tabac Ltd. in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. He’s also the co-founder and sponsor of one of the best clubs anywhere, the Greater Kansas City Pipe Club, which meets monthly at his store with 50 members or so in attendance and a real agenda of guest speakers and tobacco sampling. Beyer is fully immersed in all things briar, carving his own pipes, performing repairs for customers and blending his own tobaccos with assistance from McClelland Tobacco Co., which is headquartered a short drive away. Beyer and his wife and partner, Bobbe—the two have been married 44 years—are such good friends with McClelland’s owners, Mike and Mary McNiel, that they spend Thanksgiving together every year.

At a time when many tobacco emporiums are retreating from pipes, Cigar & Tabac is fearlessly devoted to its inventory of 700 pipes and 80 bulk tobaccos—17 of them created by Beyer himself—as well as 1,400 cigar labels, the latter on display in a sprawling 1,600-square-foot walk-in humidor within the 4,000-square-foot store. Cigar & Tabac sells an average of five pipes a day, or more than 1,500 a year, though this remains decidedly a small business.

There is also a second store, spanning 1,400 square feet with 250 pipes on display, in the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country, Mo. Beyer is a St. Louis native, and he has harbored notions of retiring back to his hometown someday, even if he’s too busy with the headquarters store in Overland Park to move anywhere anytime soon.

Cigar & Tabac thrives in otherwise fiercely competitive markets. In St. Louis, the Town and Country store faces off against entrenched rivals such as John Dengler Tobacconist in St. Charles and Jon’s Pipe Shop in Clayton. In Overland Park, the main rivals include Diebel’s Sportsmens Gallery in the Country Club kansas3Plaza, which stocks the Dunhill and Davidoff brands that Cigar & Tabac doesn’t have, and the two-location Outlaw. Each of the rivals has formidable walk-in humidors and lots of space as well as the advantage of superior locations. But they can’t match Beyer’s pipe selection and services tailored for briar connoisseurs.

Beyer is that rare tobacconist who has actual big-box retail training and experience. After graduating from college in 1968, and marrying Bobbe, he embarked on a career with Sears Roebuck, completing a management program in El Paso, Texas, then embarking on a merry-go-round that included stops at Sears stores around Texas before finally transferring to Kansas City in ’72. But Sears’ management changed and the business became too stressful, and before long Beyer switched careers to life insurance, selling on commission, and then later did some public relations work. Through all this time he was smoking pipes—he got his first Jobey freehand from Diebel’s in 1973—and learning more about tobaccos.

Cigar & Tabac was born in 1982, with Beyer investing $20,000 in a claustrophobic 585-square-foot retail nook in an enclosed mall in Overland Park, 10 blocks from the current location. It was an inauspicious start, with Lyn selling GBDs and Comoys and Jobeys priced from $15 to $40 along with a couple of dozen bulk tobaccos. His first proprietary blend was called Black Forest and was a combination of cherry and vanilla flavors. “I had to give it away back at the start. Now it’s my second biggest seller,” Beyer recalls. Business in the ’80s, he adds, was so tough that he couldn’t pay himself a salary throughout his first five years. The couple and their lone child, Jennifer (40 years old now), depended on Bobbe’s income as a bank officer.

Caution was the byword for Beyer as he built the business slowly. Kansas City’s legacy tobacconist, called Englander’s, was put up for sale in the ’80s and offered to Beyer. He negotiated to buy it until the price got too high, then backed off. It later went to a relative and eventually went out of business. kansas4Beyer has fond memories of the pipe industry in those days, when wholesale reps for brands such as Savinelli and Comoy and GBD all lived in Kansas City and were a fount of knowledge. “Each guy would come back from a tour of the factory and tell me about all the new products that were coming,” Beyer says. “They had great stories to share with you and everything was conducted on a personal basis. Now the reps are gone. If you need a Savinelli for your shelf, you get on the phone and talk to somebody you don’t know long distance to place an order. It isn’t the same at all.”

By 1987 Cigar & Tabac was the biggest pipe retailer in the region, and Beyer moved up to a larger, 1,500-square-foot space notable for a 500-foot humidor. Through the early and mid-’90s he was growing 25 percent and more a year, with pipe volume reaching 500 pieces annually. By 1997 Bobbe quit her job at the bank and came on as a partner. Lyn now spends more time with one of his abiding passions, the Masonic Lodge. He’s a 32nd degree Mason, is in the grand lodge line in Kansas and is devoted to various fundraising projects, such as an annual golf tournament for his customers that helps raise money for cancer research at Kansas University.

Read the rest of the story in Pipes and tobaccos magazine or in the online digital edition.

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Category: Feature Article, Spring 2013

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