Richmond CORPS Wrap-Up & Las Vegas Dreams

Russ sure looks happy with this stogie!

Our crack (that’s crack, not cracked) marketing director, Travis, suggested that I write something about the Richmond (CORPS) show, and with the West Coast (Las Vegas) show only a couple of days away, I thought that I would write the wrap-up and give my impression of the contrasts of the two shows.

When I arrived in beautiful Richmond on the morning of October 5th, it was brilliantly sunny and well into the seventies. I drove to the airport to meet and pickup the winner of our Fusion Lab contest, Trevor Birch. We connected in the terminal and headed off to the car to go visit our friends at the Altadis pipe tobacco factory for a tour. Trevor was amazed at the massive operation and the incredible aromas. Paul Creasy, the general manager and the quality control manager/blender, Carl McAllister are two of the nicest and most accommodating people in the business, and they treated us, as usual, like royalty. After settling into the hotel, we went to the welcoming dinner, and it was great for me to see all of my friends who I hadn’t seen since my illness. It was a fun evening for everyone, and it was easy to get to sleep after a long day.

The show itself started on Saturday morning, and I was excited and a bit nervous. My excitement stemmed from the anticipation of seeing a number of friends who would be attending, meeting new folks and the rollout of my Bengal Slices tribute, Fusilier’s Ration. My nervousness also came from the introduction of the new blend. I felt that, based on my memory of my old favorite, I had gotten close enough to get points in Skee Ball, but I earlier had sampled it out to a small group, very few of whom had ever tasted Bengal Slices, but the feedback was favorable. Now it was time for the real test as this was the first open public tasting.

For the first time, the event was held at the Richmond Convention Center in a massive exhibit hall, and smoking was allowed. The room afforded us with more space behind the tables than any other show I have been to, and made things very comfortable, and comfort is one of the things I identify most with the CORPS show. The club members are so friendly, welcoming and willing to help that, if you can’t feel relaxed at this show, you never will.

The chance to get reaction to Fusilier’s Ration came early as I saw Neill Archer Roan. If you’re unfamiliar with Neill’s blog, A Passion For Pipes (http://www.apassionforpipes.com/), he’s a very articulate and thoughtful hobbyist who really brings a joyful enthusiasm to the table, and I frequently go to his blogs to see what’s on Neill’s mind. I offered some of the new crumble cake to him which he gladly accepted as I had given him a heads-up prior to the show. Neill’s opinion was going to be one of my gauges for the success of the project, as I know that he feels much as I do about Bengal Slices. He lit up and took a few puffs, and then a beatific smile spread across his face. I found myself smiling as well because I could tell by his expression that it wasn’t just my imagination; the blend was fairly close to the target. And I think I remember a “you nailed it” from Neill.

Shortly thereafter, another good friend and well-recognized tobacco collector and connoisseur, Fred Goldring stopped by and I gave him some to try. His reaction was much the same as Neill’s, but we didn’t have a lot of time to chat (but from a subsequent email, I found that his reaction was an enthusiastic two thumbs up). Now buoyed by that reinforcement, I set about to meet and greet.

After a long day, Trevor and I decided to hang out in the smoking area and to attend a pasta dinner that was hosted by Altadis. We had a terrific evening with a lot of laughs and reminiscences. When we finally got back to the hotel, I was more than ready for some sleep.

Sunday was cool and rainy, and probably kept the crowd down, but the people who made the trip were really happy to be there, and it was a lot of fun. As the day wore down, I took some time to chat with other vendors and I began the process of breaking down the booth. In the meantime, my new colleague, Jim Murray, had made agreements with a number of artisan pipemakers, including Bob Hayes and Michael Lindner, to bring their amazing work to Pipes and Cigars.com. After shutdown, I drove Trevor to the airport and saw him off, having really enjoyed getting to meet him. I settled into my room for some rest before the drive back north.

In thinking about the show just completed, and the next one to come, I thought about the similarities and differences. In both cases, smoking is allowed on the show floor, a welcome thing that’s becoming all too rare. When I think of Richmond, I get a feeling like going to visit old friends or relatives- a warm comfort. Las Vegas is a higher energy type of show, comparable in size to Richmond. I enjoy both gatherings, but there are more contrasts. The CORPS Expo is one of the oldest annual shows whereas the West Coast Pipe Show is in its infancy; just four years old next month. Richmond offers a beautiful city with culture and history while Vegas offers…well, everything that Vegas offers. In either case, there’s plenty for non-pipe smoking folk to do, so both shows are great for spouses (or is that spice?)

In either case, if you haven’t made the trip to a show, DO IT! And when you get there, find our tables and stop by. I’ll have lots of samples and I’d enjoy meeting you.

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About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.