Cigars and Smokers to Perish Predicts Piece in Toronto Sun
The Toronto Sun
May 21, 2008 Wednesday
No butts about it;
High-end cigars, once a luxurious pleasure among manly men, are fading from the scene
BYLINE: BY THANE BURNETT
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 36
LENGTH: 864 words
DATELINE: KITCHENER, ONT.
A meeting of the original boys club comes to order in a smokeless back room.
Members stand and are judged before the lacquered glare of a panel of silent elders -- a trio of parched and mounted speckled trout which haven't seen a glass of water since they were pulled from a Quebec lake more than 50 years ago.
The official gavel during all meetings is a golf club. Public notices are the racing forms, neatly stacked in racks.
There's no need for a roll call among current members gathered. Off and on, the people and wares have changed during the 116 years inside Kitchener's Walper shop -- Canada's oldest tobacco dealer -- but all new business can usually be traced back to the ashes of previous sessions.
"Tell him about that night ...," one member encourages, "With the ... girl upstairs in the office."
"When I dialed 411 instead of 911?" recalls another long-standing club associate. "Too much to drink ... police officers at the door ... 'Let us in,' they yelled."
"I've heard this one ... it's a good one," another man chimes in, as he passes through the historic chambers.
"We got her out quick ... I don't even think your dad knows about what really happened," the second member continues.
It leans oh so casually against a local hotel, which is just a couple of years younger. Here, among the men, you will hear stories of magnificent feats accomplished with a putter, you'll be challenged about the best-ever American muscle car and you will be quizzed about last night's game.
Far outside the doors of this store, there rages a debate about the future of man. It genetically boils down to this: It takes the male of our species to carry the Y chromosome, and it takes the Y chromosome to produce sperm, which we need to carry on humanity. However, researchers have discovered, that down through time -- even before scented candles, man-purses and paternity leave -- the Y chromosome has lost most of its genes.
The male side is slowly losing our game, and some scientists wonder if the Y in us won't just vanish altogether.
But not in this man-cave -- brightly lit and airy because the owner knows women have more money to spend here than the men. Women may walk through the front door -- which is guarded by a stuffed raccoon -- almost as much as men, but many times, it's to buy provisions for guys.
The weight of a gift bag bearing the Walper logo once carried almost the same prestige as the blue box from Birks jewellers.
Decades ago, customers would stand a dozen people deep, to pick up the perfect present for the man of the house.
Staff only had time to calculate the taxes in their heads, before tossing the cash under the counter, to be sorted later.
"If it came from Walper, people knew it was something special," says Mike Koebel, the third man to own the shop.
The first was George Odlum Philip, who was given a tobacconist permit when the city was still called Berlin.
"If it's habit forming, we stock it," explains Mike, who started working here for $60 a week, 38 years ago.
Under attack from guardians of public health, and those who would protect us from ourselves, gone are the in-store cigar and pipe lighting days of old. There are only the stories of happy men who would leave such sessions, and almost crash their sports cars, while trying to light up another $50 stogie.
The Walper has a light musk of printer's ink from the magazine rack mingling with the scent of unlit tobacco. A walk-in humidor renews the sweet air every time a customer opens the door. Even if you can't afford $723.75 for a box of No. 2 Montecristo's, a man can fill up his lungs with just the lingering bouquet.
But it happens that 47-year-old business consultant Steve Holbrook can afford the best. The Canadian now lives in Belgium, but always makes sure to make a pilgrimage to Walper.
"When I go home, there'll be a couple of boxes under my arm," Holbrook promises.
Inside the shop, the stories continue. A limo once pulled up outside. A beefy security guard came in to buy two good cigars at $52 each. Under orders, the guard couldn't say who was in the back seat. Then, as the car hit Hwy. 401, the driver called the shop back.
As far back as 70 years ago, local meat cutter, Walter Smith, was a regular member of the Walper's boys club. Years later, he brought his grandson, Mark Simmons.
Today, Simmons, at 53, stands on the sidewalk.
New rules mean the Walper will soon have to cover over their Canadian cigarettes. Bad habits are shrunk a little more.
To survive, Mike is now taking the smoke shop online. You'll be able to buy a $33.95 Cohiba without walking past a front door which has been polished by Bob, the cleaner, for more than 30 years.
And while that may be an advance of the marketplace, it will not ensure the continuation of the male genes.