By Bob Tate
When I first stepped into The Smoke Shop, it was like stepping into a time machine and going into the past. They are a true tobacconist shop with a lot of history. The Smoke Shop first opened for business in 1948 and during all of this time; they have kept the nostalgic feel in their shop. Once I walked into the shop, it felt like the world slowed down and I forgot about the hustle and bustle of the people outside running around doing their tasks. When I left the shop, it felt kind of strange stepping back into a fast paced world where everything is hurry, hurry, hurry.
When I say that they are a “true tobacconist shop”, I mean that they have, and cater to, every type of tobacco and tobacco user. They also carry a full line of pipe smoking accessories. Most of us have been in shops that focus on mainly cigars with pipes and pipe tobacco as an afterthought. The Smoke Shop does not focus on one particular type of tobacco and tobacco user. They are equally focused on everyone who enjoys tobacco products, no matter which type it is that an individual prefers.
Nothing is an afterthought to them an they are a full service shop. They will take the time to walk the customer through all of the steps to get the most enjoyment out of the experience. The staff is friendly and they are knowledgeable in everything that they sell and know their products very well. That is becoming a rare thing in this day and age. A lot of other shops seem to focus on selling their products and not necessarily helping out the consumer, especially those that are new to the enjoyment of premium tobacco products.
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While I was there, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the owner Peter Keller.
PipesMagazine.com: According to your website [smokeshopusaltd.com], The Smoke Shop has been is business since 1948.
Peter Keller: Yes, 1948. It was started by my great uncle and aunt Archie and Anne Marie Korsunski. Then in 1966, they brought my dad [Francis Keller] over from France and he started working here. In 1974, my dad purchased the business and ran it himself until January of this year  when I purchased it from him. So it’s been in my family now for three generations.
PM: That’s great to hear. So this is an old fashioned, three generation tobacconist shop.
Pete: Very much so. We blend our own tobacco, we carry a full line of pipes, we have recipes going back 60 years and we have customers going back that far as well.
PM: So you do actually blend your own pipe tobacco blends?
Pete: Yeah. Most of our blending is with our natural blends; American, Scottish, English mixtures and things like that, but we do have a number of Aromatics that we blend ourselves as well.
PM: How has the pipe end of the business been lately? Has it been doing good?
Pete: Our pipe business has always been pretty good. We’ve been lucky and I guess that we’re kind of known for being good about pipes. I’ve been told several times that when people go to start smoking, if they run into someone that knows us; they say “You should go there. They know what they’re talking about”.
We also have the U.S. Naval Academy which kind of has a pipe smoking tradition and St. John’s which is a small liberal arts college, so we get a number of “Johnnies” coming by wanting to learn how to smoke. But it’s actually a lot of the people that live in the area coming in too that want to learn; people who are smoking cigars and either just because they want to try something new or because pipes are by far the most economical. You get the largest variety of flavor and cigars really can’t compete with that. They come to see us and they want to try it.
PM: As far as the Naval Academy students who come in here for pipes, do they seem to stick with it?
Pete: A lot of them do. You know, it’s one way that they can relax and spend their free time, especially at the academy because they’re pretty much only allowed out on the weekends. So that’s one thing that they can do. They can find a nice quite corner at the academy, sit down, smoke a pipe, and relax.
PM: With the anti-tobacco movement that is running rampant right now, have you had any opposition, such as complaints, in this location because you allow smoking in the shop?
Pete: Occasionally people will walk in off of the street, either accompanying someone or poke their head in, and say something about the smoke. It does happen from time to time and the only thing that you can really say is; this is the last public space that smokers have and if you really dislike smoke, I don’t understand why you’re coming in here anyway. Our employees smoke, our customers smoke, and it’s our last refuge aside from your own private home or outdoors.
PM: Do you actually own the property or do you lease it?
Pete: My family does.
PM: So you don’t have to deal with a lease. The reason that I ask is because I know of a few tobacconist shops and cigar shops that lease and the property owner is telling them that they are no longer allowed to smoke in the shop.
Pete: Yes. I have heard that has recently happened to a cigar shop in the area and it has really hurt their business.
PM: That’s good to hear that you actually own the property and you will always be allowed to smoke in here.
Pete: Yeah and I recently installed a new vent that leads straight to the outside with a pretty decent fan so it helps to keep the smoke down as well. When you get more than a half a dozen guys in here smoking, it can get a little thick. We can also leave the doors open and no one really complains. It’s actually a decent form of advertising because people will come by, poke their head in and say, “We can smell you down the block”. The majority of non-smokers that come in here say, “I love the smell of tobacco shops”. It’s just once in a blue moon that you’ll get someone that will give you a little bit of a guff.
PM: It’s so hard to believe how many people actually believe anything that these so called scientists say about any type of tobacco. Like with the “Third Hand Smoke” and now they are starting to come out with “Fourth Hand Smoke” propaganda.
Pete: I don’t disagree and as far as “Second Hand Smoke”, the guy who wrote that report said that he was pushed to exaggerate the results. It is what it is and I’ve always tried to be a considerate smoker myself because it’s something that I enjoy, other people might not enjoy it, and I’ll try to be considerate about that. But on the other hand, it would be nice if other people would be considerate of it. If I’m staying away from them, then leave me be.
PM: I can understand, and I do agree, that non-smokers should have some establishments that are smoke free because they have the same right to not smoke or smell smoke like we do, but we should also not be pushed into becoming second class citizens because we choose to smoke and enjoy tobacco products. The thing that’s really irritating me lately is all of the outdoor smoking bans that are being implemented.
Pete: It is a little bit excessive and what it boils down to unfortunately is a lot of business owners are losing the right to run their business the way that they choose. With what happened with the smoking ban here in Maryland, there were a lot of restaurants that testified here in Annapolis. I believe a lot of the motivation was that some of them wanted non-smoking establishments and most restaurants here have bars. They tried it [to go non smoking] in the past and they lost money so they didn’t want to have to compete [with the smoking establishments].
Tobacco has kind of become the whipping boy because it’s easy and nobody fights too hard when a new tax is proposed or limitations on smokers’ rights and it definitely seems that the government is taking the easy route as far as placating a group of the population that dislikes it or collecting revenue. Unfortunately at the state level, in a state like Maryland, they end up losing out. Because in 45 minutes in any direction, you can go to another state and buy it much cheaper and even though the regulations in Maryland that says that it’s illegal to bring back say more than two packs of cigarettes, people still do it.
PM: Getting back to the subject of pipes and pipe tobacco, do you have a best selling pipe brand or is it all over the board?
Pete: It’s kind of all over the board. The mid and high range pipes. Peterson has always sold very well for us, Savinelli as well. Some of the pipes that we carry are Savinelli, Peterson, Ben Wade, Big Ben, Stanwell, Ferndown, which is produced by a former carver of Dunhill and started his own company with his wife. We generally have anywhere from a few to a dozen estate pipes on the board ranging from mid grade to high grade. But probably the better sellers are Peterson and Savinelli, especially for starting out.
We actually had Erik Nording stop by the other day. We haven’t carried his stuff in awhile and he was showing me his new stuff and probably in the next couple of months I might bring it in because he had a lot of interesting stuff at a really decent price. They are producing some more of the traditional English shapes which I think will help more in the American market. A lot of our new pipe smokers, and pipe smokers in general, tend to like the traditional English shapes.
PM: What is your best selling tobacco blend?
Pete: In the natural it would probably be our Trafalgar, which is a fairly full bodied English mixture.
In the aromatic it would probably be our Billy Budd, which is a light and dark Cavendish topped with vanilla. A lot of guys like to start on that because it’s very smooth, very little bite, and has the aroma that people expect when they think of a pipe.
A lot of people expect that sort of cherry or vanilla aroma because that’s what stands out. A lot of people stick with the Billy Budd, but then we have a lot of customers that start moving their way up and trying different things. We carry a bulk aromatic from McClelland which is a broken Virginia flake that’s topped with chocolate that’s very good. I’m not a huge fan of aromatics myself, but that’s the one that I enjoy and I’ll smoke at home to get the smell of cigars and Latakia out.
PM: Have you noticed the younger adult crowd getting involved with pipes and pipe smoking?
Pete: Yes actually. A lot of the guys that come in, that just live in the area, are a little bit younger. A lot of people do start out smoking cigars, but then start getting interested in pipes.
We have a fairly high retention rate, it seems, because we really do try to inform a new pipe smoker. We have a pamphlet that goes over the breaking in process that we pass out to each new pipe smoker. Selling a pipe in here takes anywhere from a half of an hour to an hour, especially with a new pipe smoker, because we’ll go over how to pack it, how to break it in properly, how to maintain it, how to store it, everything like that. We always tell them to feel free to stop by whenever you want to and you can fill up a bowl with any of our house blends or whatever tin we happen to be smoking at the time. So we have a lot of people that come back. If they’re having problems they come by, fill up a bowl, I’ll show them directly how to light it and everything like that and it usually works out very well for us.
PM: It’s great to hear that you are an actual full service tobacconist shop, you don’t find that much these days. Even in most cigar only shops these days they don’t walk the new smoker through the process of properly enjoying a cigar. They don’t ask what their flavor preferences are or anything like that. They just say here you go, enjoy.
Pete: We do the same with cigars and even cigarette tobacco, I mean everything in here. The first thing I do is ask questions like; What have you smoked before? What did you like? What did you dislike? Etc.
I’ve been back for a couple of years now. I worked in here when I was younger and left the country for a few years and have been back for a couple of years now. I got to know all of the new stuff in the humidor and I have smoked everything. Right now I am working through all of the tins of pipe tobacco. Over the years I have smoked all of our house blends, but I have re-smoked all of those and I am now working my way through the Rattray’s. I’m going to get to all of the McClelland blends at some point because I have to know my product. If I’m just shoving something into someone’s hand because it’s just going to make me money because it’s a more expensive product, people are not going to come back. I enjoy tobacco and I want other people to as well.
If you live in the Annapolis, Maryland area, be sure to visit The Smoke Shop. It is a great tobacconist shop and they have everything that you will need for your pipe smoking pleasures!
The Smoke Shop
56 Maryland Avenue
Annapolis, MD 21401
Phone # (410) 263-2066