Now, we haven’t always been your corner tobacco shop. In fact, we started far from the stand-alone brick and mortar that we are today.
The year was 1974. The country faced the transition from Richard Nixon to Gerald Ford, and Happy Days debuted on ABC. In Birmingham, Al, construction finished on the brand new Brookwood Mall. This was to be the grandest shopping experience known to the South. Merchandise would be available from the nation’s leading department stores. Food would draw folks in for an all day shopping adventure.
Part of the adventure was a small Tinderbox franchise on the second story. Located near the middle, it would catch the attention of everyone walking by. Plus, we had a little something for everyone. In addition to the expected pipes and cigars, we carried trinkets and collectibles. In other words, we had a lot of stuff in a little, tiny space.
Our store - the whole thing - was as big as our pipe showroom now. Cases lined both sides of a center aisle, so customers were channeled by pipes and tobacco to odds and ends. Staff trampled over one another to move behind the counter. We did have a humidor too, so there were plenty of cigars to go around.
While Skip was here from day one, Gus Elliott [Skip’s dad] opened the shop in Brookwood Mall. Gus was a passionate pipesmoker; often falling asleep with the pipe in his mouth, only to be awakened by the bowl going out. He moved his family from North Carolina and found a way to turn passion into business. Peterson Pipes were his favorites. They had a useful system and were moderately priced, so they were an easy sell. In fact, Gus led the Tinderbox several years as the leading Peterson dealer in the country.
Mrs. Elliott found a place in the shop too. She took care of the collectibles. From small glass figurines to shaving kits, she made sure we could supply whatever you were looking for. Mrs. Sarah drew many people into the shop who never would have stopped by otherwise.
Then, Skip made all the stuff move. A customer came in looking for an ounce of tobacco and left with a new pipe and a glass cat too. He found the technical details of the handmades more interesting. The nuances of bowl shape and grain pattern never escaped his attention. This attention to detail made us the number one Dunhill retailer for many years.
Even as a Tinderbox, we’ve been a family affair. These early days laid the foundation that would raise the legend of The Briary. The business grew rapidly from the first punches of the cash-register. People discovered a place to enjoy good tobacco and a place to escape the world for a while. A welcomed vacation from the work day that’s just down the road, as far out of reach as one’s next bowl.