Just because a place has a smoking lounge, it doesn’t mean the folks who use it simply hang around smoking and, um, lounging.
"I had a guy come in here and did his whole bills for a month-and-a-half," recalled Jan McClellan, the retired city policeman who owns Sal’s Tobacco, Pipe & Coffee Shop with his wife, Sally. "He smoked a cigar."
Another user, he said, was a laid-off Warner Gear employee who puffed a stogie while studying the textbooks for his new profession-to-be – nursing.
Laptop computer users can also access the Internet here.
Of course, some guys just come in to light up, grab a cup of coffee and talk.
"I do my laundry on Saturday morning and stop on the way to buy cigars," said Tom Benbow, a retired photographer, as he stuffed stringy tobacco into the bowl of his Danish-style pipe. "That’s what I do. It’s a relaxing activity. I don’t smoke in the house."
Walk into Sal’s and, after you’ve been noisily greeted by Sarge, the McClellans’ miniature schnauzer, you will notice the pipes, the glass bowls of pipe tobacco, the cigar cutters, the assortment of fragrant coffee beans and the walk-in cigar humidor, among other things.
"The humidity’s always 65 to 70 percent in here," Jan explained, surrounded by open boxes of cigars ranging from ones costing $2 each, up to the Montecristos, resting resplendently in their substantial silver tubes.
Burning one of those babies will cost you $17.
But back in the lounge, the tobacco-shop look pretty much disappears. There’s a large book case, one which contains some actual books. There’s also a television set, some chairs, a couch, a coffee maker and a checkers set ready and waiting on a small table.
"We’ve settled a lot of problems of the world in here," said Jan, whose shirt featured a pattern with cigars.
His wife, who works as a special-education teacher, agreed.
"We’ve had therapy sessions in here," Sally said, laughing.
The part of the shop where the lounge is once housed a collectibles section featuring gift items. The economy put the kibosh on that.
"Times change," Jan said with a shrug.
Pipes, cigars, but no cigs
Now Sal’s concentrates on its tobacco products — pipe tobacco and cigars are sold, but no cigarettes — its coffee beans and its tea, which is available in loose form, a rarity hereabouts.
Saturday is the most popular lounge-users day, but on this Monday, Benbow’s pipe tobacco and the pots of brewed Colombia Supremo coffee nicely scented the air. On any given day, Jan said, the place might attract motorcycle enthusiasts, veterans who trade war stories over a smoke and a coffee, or some combinations of users you might never expect.
"Believe it or not, we had a father and a daughter come in three weeks ago and smoked cigars together," Jan recalled, noting the young woman was a Ball State University student. "They said they’d smoked cigars together for years."
A father and son recently did the same thing, he added, playing checkers while they smoked.
Among those customers who use the shop as a meeting and smoking place are some who have become more like friends.
Sally noted that one lounge user helped the McClellans the day a beloved horse that she’d owned for 17 years died of a twisted bowel, hauling its carcass to her aunt’s farm on a flatbed trailer for burial.
"We’ve met a lot of people that you would call your friends," Sally said.
Meanwhile, Jan explained that the lounge was an obvious answer to a smoker’s need.
"Because there’s no place to go," he said. "You can’t smoke a cigar or a pipe without complaint."
"Just to maintain a good, local hideout for the guys," Jan said.
And in some cases, he might have added, apparently their wives, girlfriends and daughters.
Sal’s Tobacco Pipe & Coffee Shop
3420 N Wheeling Ave
Muncie, IN 47304-2040