Back when I kid in the 90’s, my dad would drag me out of the house, away from my beloved video games, and go with him on little excursions against my will. See, my dad is a RC plane enthusiast, and he spent his evenings back then in the garage or basement working on his latest project. Despite my father’s best attempts, he never could quite pique my interested in his favorite pastime. Don’t get me wrong, my dad has a talent for model planes, and he made some great ones. It just wasn’t for me. As a result of his hobby, I spent many an afternoon or hot summer Saturday on the flying field while my dad flew his planes. My sister and I will sometimes reminisce on how we’d go on adventures in the surrounding fields, climbing trees and exploring, rather than watching my dad fly. As boring as it was, it gave me ample time to use my imagination to pass the time.
About once a week, though, my dad would take me along to the local hobby shop in LaGrange, Illinois. He’d usually spend about an hour at the shop, chatting with the employees and customers while I was left to peruse the shop and entertain myself. Unfortunately, at my age, nothing at the shop really captured my interest. I certainly had my hobbies at that age, but it was limited to video games, comic books, and super hero action figures.
It’s a shame, because looking back; there were tons of cool stuff to find at the store. I just wasn’t at the right stage in life to truly appreciate what was there. Sure, the shop had model plane stuff, but it also had Dungeons & Dragons modules, military and fantasy miniatures, war-gaming books, and monster model kits. However, if I came home with something like a book on D&D, my mother would’ve thrown a fit and taken me to our pastor for prayer.
There were a ton of other shops and restaurants in the area by the hobby shop, and I’d look at them as my dad drove by to find a parking spot. As I paid more attention to the surroundings over the years, there was one shop that caught my eye, and I can still see it vaguely, even after all these years. Given the subject material of this blog, I can assume you already know what kind of shop it was.
The little store was called The Piper of LaGrange, and what a marvelous looking tobacco shop it was. This wasn’t one of those discount tobacco places, either, but a classic tobacconist. If memory serves me right, the shop had a sign with the outline of the Pied Piper playing his pipe, advertising the shop. On the store window, it listed the items it had for sale. “The Pied Piper of LaGrange. Pipes, Tobacco, Cigars, Darts, and Billiards Supplies.” Can you think of a better store to spend time in? It sold practically everything I’d be interested in now. Even today, few tobacconists could promote themselves that would get me to come in quite like The Piper of LaGrange.
Remember, I was a youngster at the time, below smoking age, and I didn’t personally have a pipe smoker in my life to impart any sort of memories with the hobby. Yet despite this, that Pied Piper might as well have been playing his tune for me, because he had me under his spell. I never would’ve admitted my pipe interest to anyone at the time, but I so wanted to sneak out of the hobby shop and make my way to that store. Of course, if I had, I’m sure the storeowner would’ve told me to scram until I was older, but that’s not the point. I had to see what the Piper of LaGrange looked like inside. Unfortunately, my dad smoked cigarettes, so he had no need to step inside The Piper of LaGrange, so the tobacco shop had to remain a mystery to me.
Instead, all I had was my imagination to give me an idea of what was inside. Based on the other stores in the surrounding area, I’m sure it was a cozy tobacco shop, with numerous new and estate pipes resting on the shelves (hopefully not the cursed kind), jars of Lane tobacco listed as house blends, countless tins of blends gone by, and anything a pipe smoker would need. I’m sure the shop had regulars that came around to smoke and chat, with its own little community.
At some point when I decided I’d smoke a pipe one day, I made a promise to myself that when I was of age and could drive myself, I’d make the trip to the Piper and finally get that glimpse inside with my own eyes. If I hadn’t picked up pipe smoking beforehand, I certainly would have then. I’d wander into the shop and pick out my first pipe, my first tobacco blend, and learn from someone knowledgeable about the ways of smoking a pipe. If all went according to plan, I could even become a regular myself and be known on a first name basis as I picked up my latest tin or pouch.
Sadly, time ever marches on, and as the years pass, so does the landscape of a city street. One day, around the age of 18, I went to the hobby shop with my dad and passed by The Piper of LaGrange. The window store was empty with the exception of a ‘For Sale’ sign, and the glass art had been wiped clean. The tobacconist had closed up shop for good, and my chance had slipped through my fingers. It didn’t matter, as I wouldn’t take up pipe smoking until ten years later, and I never would’ve tried it while living at home. My dreams were dashed, and the store would forever remain a mystery to me. A different tobacco shop appeared a few blocks down, but from its appearance, I could tell it was predominately focused on cigars. Even that shop is gone now, so that’s also not an option.
Since then, I’ve searched online for any sort of information on The Piper of LaGrange, but given that the store closed on the cusp of the internet age, all that remains is an old phone number that I’m sure leads to nowhere. There’s no discussion about the old shop on pipe pages past, and I’ve yet to run into a person that’s heard of it. A search on Google images doesn’t bring up their storefront, so all I have are my memories.
It’s a shame really. While I still ended up becoming a pipe smoker, that all happened due to my own determination. I didn’t have a Piper of LaGrange to drive to so I could learn from someone in person how to smoke a pipe. Instead, my mentors were pipe websites and youtubers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think there’s something special about learning how to smoke a pipe with a fellow piper guiding you.
It’s times like this that make me wish I had a time machine to go back to spend a lazy afternoon at The Piper of LaGrange. Some might call that a waste of time travel, but at least I wouldn’t be messing with the timeline, and there’s no risk of running into my past self inside the shop for a time paradox. Maybe one day one of those internet geniuses will figure it all out, but until then it’s an opportunity lost.
I lament the loss of The Piper of LaGrange, because it’s rare to find a tobacco shop that focuses on pipes these days. Most tobacconists are focused on cigars or—other things, and while there are pipe focused shops out there, they’re not easy to find. As much as I appreciate online shops, nothing can take the place of a reliable brick and mortar.
Sometimes I daydream about being a tobacconist myself, taking up shop in a small town and focusing it on pipes and pipe tobacco. Unfortunately, with the current climate of everyone being anti-tobacco, it seems like my hopes will remain just that, pipe dreams.
Still, I think about what kind of shop I’d like to run, and what I’d put into it. If I had any shop to base it on, it would have to be like The Piper of LaGrange, or at least the one in my imagination. I can tell you one thing; it wouldn’t look like the bland, Apple store wannabe vape shops with neon signs I see in every city. I turn away in disgust every time I see one of those places.
Instead, I’d keep it classy, with a vintage feel to the shop. I’d buy antique furniture for customers to sit in and smoke as they chatted with fellow customers, with old advertisements and classic tobacco tins on the wall for décor. The walls would have all kinds of pipes for sale, tobacco tins, as well as house-blended tobacco inside large jars. I’d have a coffee machine available for customers, and a small library of books for those looking to escape into a novel. There would be a sound system set up, with classical music playing to set the atmosphere. I’d even have a dartboard set up for people to play a few rounds for fun. I think I’d call it The Badger’s Briar Shop, or something along those lines.
Of course, these are as I said, pipe dreams, but a guy can dream, can’t he?
So until next time, I’ll light my pipe in honor of The Piper of LaGrange and bid you all a good day and happy puffing.