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Pipe Clubbing

"Location, Location, Location”
By Tom Wolfe
Posted on 3/1/2019 2:05 PM
That old saw about success in the restaurant business has never rung more truly than with pipe clubs.  Finding a good location for meetings is one of the hardest parts of making a club successful.  Constantly changing where and when you will meet is going to hurt attendance and can be the downfall of many clubs.

It certainly has not been easy to find the perfect spot when draconian smoking laws have made it harder and harder to find a good place to smoke in public.  Add to that the desire to find a place that also serves food and drink may make you give up the whole thing even before your club has its first meeting.

As an example, let’s look at the Seattle Pipe Club (SPC).  It was founded in 2001 by just three guys that wanted to talk about (and smoke) pipes.  They were lucky enough to convince the owner of a brand new TinderBox shop to host their newly-formed club.  That lasted only four years before the shop closed its doors forever.  Another TinderBox took them in, but new state laws increased the tobacco taxes so much that this shop also was run out of business.

Next, they tried the exclusive Rainier Club in downtown Seattle.  This lasted only two years.  The club was excluded due to Seattle’s tough smoking laws.  This was their darkest hour.  

As the anti-smoking craze reached new levels in Washington state, the club found a loophole.  State smoking laws did not apply on Indian Reservations.  They found a small cigar store on Indian land to take them in.  And I do mean small.  The meeting room was in their attic and could only hold ten people (twelve, if two people stood on the stairs).

Finally, a new cigar lounge opened up, just down their street.  With a little schmoozing, the lounge greeted them with open arms and the rest is history.

I use this example because 1) I’m a charter member of the club and 2) it points out several good options to consider.

Your first and best option is to find a local tobacco shop to host your meetings.  This brings in customers to their business, and the shop will send potential members your way.  (We will talk more about tobacco shops and pipe clubs in a future article.)  Some B&M shops even have their own smoking lounges and serve refreshments.  Talk about heaven!  Not all shops can handle the meeting space and some owners may not want to deal with the hassle.  Nevertheless, if you can find a good shop that is willing to host the club, you will be a happy camper.

Anti-smoking laws have gotten so restrictive that in many states it is illegal to smoke in smoke shops. Give me a break!  That’s why SPC found an albeit temporary home at the Rainier Club.  State law applied to smoking in public places, but clubs like the Elks, Masons, and Rotary Clubs are not open to the public and were excluded.  

So if you have club members that also belong to a private club, investigate wether they are willing to let your club meet there.  It probably won’t be free, but a private club has a great coolness factor.  Even if your club already has a good meeting site, civic clubs such as these can also be a great venue for special events, such as pipe shows (another future topic).

Cigar lounges are another great place to consider for club meetings.  Now it’s not easy to convince a lounge manager to host a pipe club.  High end cigars are big business, and there isn’t as much money to be made in pipes.  (One cigar lounge wouldn’t let me smoke my pipe unless I first bought one of their cigars.)  Point out to them that most pipe smokers also enjoy a good cigar and that they usually don’t turn their noses down to booze, either.  

The long-running relationship that SPC has with Smokey Joe’s Cigar lounge has resulted in their shop carrying a small selection of pipe tobacco, lighters and even a few pipes and tampers.  Just make sure that it is clear to members that in order to keep your nice location, they need to provide the proprietor enough business to make it worthwhile.  

If the state doesn’t want you to drink, smoke or gamble, where do you go?  Indian Casinos!  Ever since Native American tribes were allowed to open up casinos they have been a popular retreat for people that aren’t ashamed of their vices. Laws vary from state to state, but tribal land does not necessarily have to follow state laws.

Casinos and their associated hotels will have meeting rooms available for a fee.  As with private clubs, you’ll have to decide if dues will cover the cost.  SPC lucked out and found the best of two worlds, a cigar lounge at an Indian casino.  On the other hand, they don’t have exclusive use of the lounge. Sharing the venue with normal customers means that SPC rarely has guest speakers, a function that was a key ingredient to its success in earlier years.

So what do you do if all else fails, have it at a club member’s home, of course.  Even that can be hard to set up.  Many spouses won’t allow smoking inside.  Even if your life partner allows you to smoke indoors, doesn’t mean that they would want twenty other people stinking up the place.  So, if you are lucky enough to have your club meet in a member’s home, be considerate.  Tidy up the place when your meeting is over, and thank them each and every time.

I mentioned this earlier, but it is worth reiterating. Bouncing your meeting location from place to place will only lead to dwindling attendance.  Find a decent place and stick with it.  And if you do nothing else, publicize when and where the meeting is well in advance of the date.


Tell us your story about finding a good location for your club.  Simply add it to the comments, below.
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