A family affair : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

A family affair

Telford’s Pipe & Cigar celebrates 44 years in San Francisco’s North Bay

by H. Lee Murphy


Brian and Susan Telford

Brian Telford, who is 66 years old, has really had only two careers in his life. He was an Army soldier in Vietnam, and within a week of his discharge in 1972 he joined a ready-made family business that his father, Don Telford, a San Francisco banker, had bankrolled. It was called Telford’s Pipe & Cigar and located in Mill Valley, Calif., a suburb five miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The business has moved around, expanded and then contracted in size, and Brian’s brother, Wayne, has long since retired. Most competing tobacco shops are out of business now, yet Telford’s continues to thrive and provide Brian, a non- smoker when he got his start, and his wife and co-owner, Susan, a good living.
Perhaps the durability of Telford’s reflects a perfect match between retailer and customer base. Mill Valley and the rest of Marin County house some of the wealthiest people in the United States. Ferrari erected its first dealership in America down the street from the shop. Maserati is nearby, too. Expensive art galleries abound. In an age when every merchant stands ready each week to mark down pricing by 30 percent or more to draw an audience, Telford’s doesn’t discount at all. It does a good business in Dunhill pipes, DuPont lighters and Davidoff cigars, all the while staying faithful to manufacturers’ suggested prices. Internet rivals are undercutting the shop, needless to say, but Telford’s hardly takes notice. The store’s website doestelfords1n’t offer e-commerce at all. Customers are drawn to service and selection and a walnut-paneled interior that presents an inviting, clubby environment. Indeed, the Golden Gate Pipe Club, whose membership includes the tobacco blender Greg Pease, meets at Telford’s the first Thursday of each month.
The company is now engaged in its boldest outreach in years. With the demise of the age-old Grant’s Pipe Shop some two years ago in San Francisco’s Financial District, the city hasn’t had a major destination for pipes and cigars. Telford’s recently launched a partner-ship with an upmarket menswear retailer downtown called Wingtip and is now selling Davidoff and other pricey brands in its own nook within the store, which is set in a vintage bank building with a smoking lounge (somehow legal) situated on an upper floor. Business is good so far amid a trend by apparel retailers to broaden their offerings in male lifestyle products and services. Nearby, the venerable Cable Car Clothiers added an in-house barber and men’s salon.

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Category: Feature Article, Winter 2015

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