Front porches were simply made for pipe smoking and The Briary's front porch is world famous. It stretches the length of the front and down one side of our 1899 farmhouse. During warmer weather [which Alabama occasionally has in January], the porch calls to customers like a siren pulling a smoker from whatever he had planned to sitting for a spell. I arrived early one day, and that's exactly what happened to me.
After sitting in a rocking chair and getting a bowl of Peterson’s University Flake going, a gentle breeze joined me. My smoke follows the breeze with the pedestrians down the sidewalk. One old man walks his dog into the park, reminding me of the recent changes. Peterson was sold again; this time to two different companies. The tobacco side lost another legend in Dunhill, and we are still mourning the loss of McClelland around here.
Yet, here sits The Briary; we remain your corner tobacco shop. Although, we weren't always on the corner, we started out in the mall with a little bit of everything. We moved to the corner, cut our hours, and focused on pipes and cigars in store. While STG diversifies and Tinder Box franchises linger, we keep one shop and focus our website on only pipes and tobacco. We end up working counter to the whole industry.
"Excuse me, sir. Y'all open?" A baritone tears me from my reflections. My head snaps to the left, and a man in a worn flannel shirt with matching jacket waves a hand.
I smile and say: "Of course, we are, sir. Come on in." Now, I'd set everything up before I got to thinking, so we walk in. He tells me about being in town for a business trip, so I point him to the lounge while holding the door open.
He starts talking about the meeting but doesn't make it past the first subject and verb. He floats to the middle of our showroom, circling between the cases, and exclaims: "This is a huge selection!"
I nod, tamping my pipe. I tell him that we source pipes from all over the world, at most price ranges - because [like their dotting smokers] no two pipes are the same. That human impact on carving natural briar is one thing we love about pipes.
The customer already moved on to the tobacco wall. He recognizes many labels though he asks a few questions too. After he picks up a couple, I make some recommendations. He grills me on the similarities and differences; I tell him that we all have old favorites. We love old favorites because [at the end of the day] those bowls bring the comfort and time to relax - which is why we smoke pipes in the first place. Still, there's some remarkable people blending phenomenal tobaccos, so we can also find that space to explore from pipe smoking.
We talk about how he got into pipes, why he stuck with it, and I tell him about getting my first pipe in my freshman year of undergrad. Problems of the world get their due attention; we could even solve a couple, if they'd let us. A phone call interrupts our banter, so he must return to the real world.
After we settle up, he thanks me for my time and keeping the tobacco shop going. He wishes more stores would learn from us cause expertise and customer service is a dying breed. I thank him for his time, giving him a card with our website [www.thebriary.com] and phone number [205-942-9001] on it. We trade "have a good one," and I start refilling jars of our bulk tobacco while he paces to the parking lot.