"It's definitely not something you grow up thinking you're going to do for a living," laughs Jon David Cole, owner of the Country Squire, Jackson's premier tobacco shop and one of only a few shops devoted strictly to pipes and cigars left in the country.
Founded in 1970 by Jim and Gwen Reeves, the Squire "is a well-known institution in its sphere, not only in Mississippi but really worldwide."
When Cole bought the shop, it was only after his mentor, Mrs. Reeves, passed away at 89. To maintain a tradition of excellence, Cole has honored the Reeves' legacy and expanded upon it, relocating from the original storefront in the Quarter on Lakeland Drive to just a few doors down.
Cole views the relocation as an opportunity to expand not only in size but also in scope. In their new shop, Cole can offer more cigars, grow a bustling shipping business, and delve into a members-only lounge, theme nights, live events and a podcast, Country Squire Radio. With 10,000 downloads per week, the show is the number one pipe-smoking podcast in the world; a few years ago, it even broke into the top ten in the "hobbyist" category.
Projects like that are expanding the presence of the Squire and pipe-smoking more generally to a new generation of tobacco enthusiasts. Cole quickly distinguishes between the thoughtful, meditative aspects of pipe and cigar smoking and the more insidious properties of cigarette smoking and vaping.
"We're in the business of relaxation," he notes, "not slavery to an addiction."
Compared to big tobacco, pipe and cigar tobacco is minimally processed, giving it an artisanal quality comparable to tea or coffee, with distinct flavor profiles and aromas.
The staff at the Squire is well-equipped to help customers discover and expand their palettes. Cole reflects on how his tastes have changed over time: "When I was 18, I wanted to smoke the sweetest tobacco I could find. If I could get tobacco that tasted like a Slurpee, that's what I wanted." Over time, though, "my palette's gotten a bit more sophisticated. Right now, I gravitate toward more savory blends."
Beyond the sensory satisfaction different blends offer, Cole says the natural appeal and the reason for the resurgence in pipe and cigar enthusiasm are grounded in the ritual of smoking and a certain nostalgic quality. "It's just an old-fashioned way of consuming tobacco. Pipes force you to relax and slow down. You can't really do anything else when you smoke a pipe."
He expands, "From selecting your tobacco, the particular pipe, preparing the tobacco, lighting it: every piece of the process is gratifying. I think younger people are gravitating toward that because they're craving meaning, something timeless."
It's a shared love of ritual that binds this community, across generations, across oceans. Cole regularly hosts hipsters in their twenties, chatting with retirees in their seventies. A couple of years ago, a newlywed couple from Italy decided to take a seven-day cross-country trip across the United States and "made a point to spend an entire day of their honeymoon in Jackson, Mississippi, because they wanted to come to see a real pipe shop," marvels Cole.
And a real pipe shop is precisely what they found.
Written by Hannah Saulters | Photographed by Joe Ellis for Find It In Fondren © Find It In Fondren
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