Is Your Tobacco Shop a Pipe Smokers’ Nexus?

Nexus. noun: center, focus. (

In thinking about why some tobacconists move pipes and pipe tobaccos at a brisk pace, while others seemingly cannot, we might drive ourselves to distraction pondering all the variables. Not least of these is just the neighborhood, and the type of foot traffic a given store attracts.

Then too, involvement in pipe smoking by the owner and staff obviously goes far in determining the pipe interest a shop can sustain. Do visitors see pipes being smoked when they enter the store? (Is it even legal to smoke indoors in your town?) Does management encourage pipe smokers to meet and socialize in the store, or is pipe smoking considered a mere distraction from the lucrative cigar trade? Does anyone manning the till possess the knowledge and patience to properly initiate a pipe-curious visitor?

I have witnessed every permutation of these factors among the shops I have visited, but one common theme recurs invariably among successful pipe sellers. And that is whether the shop has made itself a nexus of pipe smoking—a place to which pipe people are drawn from miles around because the pastime is nourished and embraced, and the needs of pipe people are given a sharp focus as a matter of store policy.

Just keeping some wise and knowing pipe smokers on staff cannot always work miracles, but it does always produce good effects. So too does keeping an arresting and varied stock of pipe-related merchandise. The idea is to make your shop a magnetic draw to those in your region seeking the services of such a place. We read about “food deserts” where grocery stores are lacking; and we know about “medical deserts,” especially where rural clinics have closed, leaving populations with meager access to health care. Likewise, there exist pipe deserts—a lot of them—places where you’d have to drive for an hour, and often more, to find a competent, well-appointed pipe merchant. Pipe deserts constitute a retail opportunity.

Pipe Smoking

The concept of “pipe shop as nexus” hit me when I read a recent column in The New York Times that described a nexus as “a place, real or virtual, where people go because they expect to find other people with whom they want to interact.” It pointed out that a nexus can be a major center of commerce like London or New York; or it can be a currency like the “the premier international currency,” the U.S. dollar; or it can be a website or service like YouTube. The writer also observed that once an entity or place has attained the status of nexus, it tends to keep that status through thick and thin.

“It takes a lot to destroy a well-established nexus,” the article stated. (We notice, X/formerly Twitter lives on stubbornly, despite its owner’s seeming desire to kill it.) All of this is to say that being a nexus gives you extra staying power, and enhanced growth potential.

I was reminded again of the concept of nexus when I talked with Bob Marshbanks, owner of The Pipe Den in Vero Beach, Florida. Now, here is a store that ticks some key “nexus” boxes: a large supply of product, with more than 1,000 pipes on display; a pipe enthusiast at the helm; not much in the way of local competition; and persistence. The Pipe Den has been moving pipes since the 1970s. “There are fewer pipe shops around these days,” Marshbanks says, “so it’s easier to capture a client base. Once a guy walks in out of curiosity, I’ve got him.” Indeed, Marshbanks figures just in the past couple of months he’s had close to 100 walk-ins give pipe smoking a first try. “They’ll start with a cob, but eventually they end up with a briar,” he says. “One of the things that’s happening is that younger people with smaller budgets are trying pipes because cigars are so expensive.”

Another shop that has won pride of place as a pipe smokers’ nexus is Pipes by George in Raleigh, North Carolina. Chris Bonaparte has been a manager there for years. Bonaparte told me, “We try to keep our stock up, including new items. We don’t advertise. We just keep a good supply of tins and bulk tobaccos, and for us, every newcomer who asks about pipe smoking is a new friend.” Bonaparte says new pipe smokers tend to go for corn cobs and mild bulk blends. “That’s usually my recommendation for newcomers, and it’s how you make a friend out of a new client, by minimizing their initial investment. Usually they will come back for more expensive items later.” 

Owner George Hoffman says, “Instruction is key. Pipe sales people need to be well-educated in pipe smoking so that they can educate their pipe customers.” I can attest to the nexus-like draw that Pipes by George exerts, living out in the sticks as I do. Hoffman’s store is an hour’s drive from my house, but it’s my best option when I require the services of a fully appointed pipe shop.

I have spilt a lot of ink over the life of this magazine trying to suggest ways that tobacconists might boost their pipe action. Go in for some trunk shows. Start and maintain an email list so you can notify people when interesting new products or events are at hand. Host a pipe club. (Start one if need be!) Cultivate a relationship with a high-quality pipemaker, or associate your shop with a popular factory brand. Pipe kits and holiday gift sets and specials—readers of this page know the drill. Sometimes all that lacks is a certain ambiance the public can sense when they walk in your door. Call it pipe-spiritedness. Making your shop into a nexus for pipe people will require some personal attention. But if the pipe smokers of your region are presently underserved, giving them a prized retail experience will invite the rewards of a grateful and growing client base.

Water that pipe desert! See what grows.  

– Image by Anna Hecker. Story by William C. Nelson.

This story first appeared in PCA The Magazine, Volume 4, 2023. To receive a copy of this magazine you must be a current member of PCA. Join or renew today at