James Foster, CST
You may or may not have heard about the fact that Mississippi’s oldest tobacconist is moving. The Country Squire opened in August of 1970, and this August will celebrate its 48th year of continuous operation. Luckily the shop will only be moving a couple doors down in the same shopping center.
Over the years The Country Squire has seen famous people like Jerry Clower, Willie Morris, and countless state politicians, professional athletes, authors, occasional actors stop by to purchase a pipe, some tobacco, or shoot the breeze.
Nestled in a well-established traffic corridor of Jackson on Lakeland drive The Quarter Shopping Center is an area that is ripe for revitalization. As Jackson, MS gets with the times and puts a new coat of fresh paint on its shopping centers and mixed-use districts, the area is getting fully renovated with apartment living above many of the established businesses. [Aside, who wouldn’t want to live above their local tobacconist?]
I managed to sucker the shops’ relatively new owner, Jon David Cole into giving me the scoop about the move and a little history of the shop and dig into any rumors about the real reasons for the move. Additionally I’ve got the exclusive first look at some of the build out of the new space and keep watching this article as I’ll update with a few more pictures as the shop comes to completion.
First things first, when did you find out that you might have to move locations?
October 2017, two days before I got engaged to my now wife! Talk about stressful!
What’s the actual story about the move Is there a hidden agenda? I smell a conspiracy.
The Quarter was bought by a group of local investors in December of 2016, and we were approached by The Quarter in the fall of 2017 about the possibility that they would be heavily investing in our shopping center, making it more attractive for shoppers and tenants. They floated the idea that we could move a couple of doors down to a larger space for our benefit, but also to make way for other tenants that could use our existing space better.
Initially, we told them no, because our shop is a historic space that we are very comfortable in–the brick floors and walls, the french doors and decorative windows… it is hard to give up. But eventually, we realized that we wanted to be a part of what is going on in our city and improving our area. We reluctantly made the jump, and are praying that it works out.
As one of the South’s oldest tobacconists, It’ll give us a chance to greatly increase our shipping business, but also carry a larger variety of pipes and hand-blended tobaccos. We think the future is bright, and no, there was no conspiracy… or is there?
How big is the new location?
The new shop is not huge: only about 1600 square feet. But it is double the size of the old shop. We are really excited about the new space.
How long does it actually take to move a tobacco shop?
Moving a 48 year old shop has its challenges. Some of the hand-made wooden cases haven’t been moved since the 1970s–I’m convinced we’ll find old Savinellis and Charatans under some of the furniture. And definitely a skeleton or two!
Now the shop is one of the few businesses that survived the great Easter Flood – how many pipes were ruined?
The Easter Flood of 1979 put our shop in 5.5 feet of water. Hundreds of pipes were completely destroyed as well as several hundred pounds of premium pipe tobaccos and cigars. It was a real tragedy. Good Morning America interviewed Jim Reeves, our founder in front of our shop, and the only way to access the shopping center was by canoe.
Wait, several hundred pounds of tobacco? The Humanity. Is it true that you still store some of your more famous blends in a galvanized trashcan?
Yes, especially one of our oldest blends Cherokee; people order a pound at a time so we have to keep large quantities on hand. What? It’s sanitary.
Now you mentioned those old brick floors previously, are the new owners going to remove them?
We are not sure about the fate of the existing brick floors in our old shop, but after we turn the keys over, the owners may find a brick or two suspiciously missing–haha. The new shop will feature a dark stained concrete. We wish we could take our brick floors with us!
Will you continue to do your podcast in the shop?
Oh, of course! We can’t wait to broadcast Country Squire Radio from the new location. The podcast has really taken the pipe community by storm, and we have been so thrilled to be a part of the current pipe-smoking renaissance. Country Squire Radio has been one of the most significant developments in the past 5 years in the pipe community–we are proud of that and want to make it front-and-center in our new location!
Tell me about the old scale.
We date the scale to the early 1960s. It’s super old, but still weighs true! We test it every once in a while against a digital scale to calibrate it. We very conservatively estimate that over it’s lifetime, its weighed upwards of 45 tons of tobacco! I’m always afraid of using another scale. I think if we weighed up our tobacco on any other scale, it wouldn’t taste right. If we ever lose that scale, I may just shut the whole thing down!
How has the business changed in the past 5 years for you?
Our little shop has become a destination in the pipe community and we are so thankful. We are amazed week after week as people come from all corners of the country to visit The Squire. Folks from all over the world come to see what a real old-fashioned tobacconist really looks like. I’ll never forget when I met our friends Roberto and Francesca. They are from Italy and chose to spend their honeymoon on a trip across America. They took an entire day out of their once in a lifetime trip to come by our dusty, old pipe shop and hang out with the regulars. It was fantastic! Stories like that are repeated month after month, and we send our tobacco everywhere!
Speaking of change, you’ve got some more people helping you now, how many employees do you have?
We’ve grown to 4 employees and are hoping to add one more by the end of the year. We are committed to hand-blending all our tobaccos and packing up each one with care. It requires extra steps and more man-power to do things like write a hand-written note for each order and stamp each tobacco label, but that’s just not optional for us. There are tobaccos from all over the world that people could try, but smokers day after day choose to spend their hard-earned money with us smoking our blends. We are honored, and the least we can do is write every one of them a hand-written “thank you!”.
What sort of events are you planning for the rest of the year?
We are planning on having a Grand Re-opening Party in August to showcase our new location and also celebrate our 48th Anniversary of business. We also try to do a pipe event and tobacco tasting each fall around the holidays, and we work closely with pipe makers like Savinelli and BriarWorks to keep the calendar full and fun. The Magnolia Pipe Club meets here once a month, and we regularly have whiskey tastings and cigar events.
Lastly, are you ever going to cut that hair?
I don’t plan on cutting my hair. My story is funny: growing up until I was about 28, I was really straight-laced (and insecure!): coat and tie, short hair, no beard… traditional frat boy. After I started working at The Squire, I realized I was in a position to do whatever I wanted, and for the first time in my life, I gave myself permission to grow my hair really long. But it’s definitely here to stay now. I’ve been married for 3 months, and I’m positive if I cut my hair at this point my wife might throw me out on the street!
Well, that about wraps it up. I want to thank Jon David for chatting about the new location, it looks really exciting to see new growth in the tobacco industry. You can keep up to date with what’s going on with the Country Squire on their website here.
Also check back on this article as I’ll post some finished pictures of the new shop once they move in.
Update: Some video of the old and new space on local Jackson News WJTV12
|James Foster goes by the online handle of Pylorns in the forums, and he is the creator of an app for keeping track of your tobacco cellar inventory called The Pipe Tool, serves as the President of the Austin Pipe Club and is a Certified Tobacconist.|