Nolan’s Tobacconist : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Nolan’s Tobacconist

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Tackling smoking bans and tobacco taxes in northern Michigan

by H. Lee Murphy

After 37 years in the tobacco retailing business, Michael Nolan has some real perspective on the industry. As the owner of Nolan’s Tobacconist, in the pretty picture-postcard town of Traverse City, Mich., he can recall that in 1980 nearly 90 percent of his sales were in pipes and pipe tobacco and the rest in cigars. Today that ratio has virtually reversed itself.
“There was a time when I had a pipe store that used to sell some cigars,” Nolan recalls. “Now I have a cigar store that sells some pipes. I suppose a lot of the old pipe shops find themselves in that position today.”

Mike Nolan

Michael Nolan

If they’re still in business at all, of course. Nolan himself came close to cashing in the business more than once as pipe smoking declined steadily through the 1980s and early 1990s. He was teaching full time in the local school system and hired a manager to run his operations for a while until the cigar boom hit Traverse City with a wallop in 1993. “Cigars began to fly off the shelves, and I quit teaching to become a full-time tobacconist again,” Nolan says. The cigar business has flattened since that halcyon period, of course, but in the past five years pipe sales have unexpectedly started ticking up again as young millennials take up smoking. “Pipes are going through a bit of a renaissance around here,” Nolan declares. “I’m encouraged.”
Nolan’s has soldiered through the cigar boom, smoking bans, tax increases and raised rent to survive as the premier tobacco shop in northern Michigan. The business is situated on a downtown retail strip littered with resolutely independent merchants—ranging from womenswear to books to ice cream to restaurants—and filled with throngs of tourists drawn to the area for its famous golf courses, ski resorts and expansive trail of wineries. There is a lot to distract the Nolan’s customer, but that’s of little concern. “Where you have shopping, you also have men who get tired of following their wives in and out of stores. We benefit from being known as the major refuge from shopping for men in this town,” Nolan says.
What does concern Nolan are issues like smoking bans and taxes, and he hasn’t hesitated to take time nolans1away from his business to wade into the politics of tobacco sales in recent years. He served three years on the board of directors of the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association, leaving the board last summer. He has also served as president of the state group called the Michigan Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, which has 29 members and was instrumental in lobbying Michigan legislators in 2009 when smoking bans were first enacted.

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Category: Feature Article, Other Stories, Spring 2015

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