It’s the Big One!

The title doesn’t refer to Fred Sanford having another heart attack, rather, it’s about the Chicagoland International Pipe and Tobacciana Show; my favorite place to be the first weekend of May.

This year was special for a number of reasons. First, we had a number of first-time attendees with us from the offices, who were going to try to get us some great deals. It was their first exposure to the pipe culture, and they found it…interesting. I can’t get into details, but we’ve got some amazing specials coming because of their hard work, so it was definitely a worthwhile trip for them.

Scotty made the trip as well, and spent the weekend being the Pipes and Cigars ambassador to the world. I’ve known Scott for about 12 years now, and nobody can work a roomful of people quite the way he can. What’s even more incredible is that he can meet someone once, and years later can recall his or her name, spouse’s name and how many children the person has. People always feel special when he chats with them.

But the highlight of the show was having Mel Feldman with us. I’ve known Mel  for over thirty years, from stopping into his shop, The Smoker, in Albany, NY. He not only had the largest selection of estate pipes I have ever seen, but he had wonderful house blends that were made one pound at a time, some of which dated back to the 1930s. Mel was heavily involved in the pipe show circuit for quite some time, so, as you can imagine, a lot of people were thrilled to see him.

The reason that Mel made the trip was because he and I had worked together to faithfully recreate fifteen of his amazing blends. We got together with our friends at Sutliff to make them in quantity and they tinned them up in some great looking packaging. We had sample bags of all the blends made up and blew through almost all of them the first day.

Mel has a reputation for being, well, irascible. The truth of the matter is that he really isn’t, but he’s very honest and doesn’t mince words and some people mistake one for the other. Despite the perception, there are a flock of people out there who like and admire him, and I’m in that group. If he hadn’t been generous with his time and knowledge all those years ago, I doubt that I would be doing what I’m doing.

Because of our recent move, we left Friday morning and returned Sunday night, but I made up for lost time by staying in the smoking tent each night until almost 2 am. It was great to see everyone, especially considering that I missed last year’s show because of illness. A few people didn’t recognize me because of my fifty pound weight loss, so I kind of enjoyed the surprised looks. In fact, one gentleman asked me if Russ had made the trip and I told him that we left that idiot behind. Then he realized it was me and we had a laugh.

The sheer size of the show (about three times the size of the next largest) gives it a bit of a carnival atmosphere, and you could easily get lost navigating your way through 305 tables. But the variety and the number of people only add to the unique feel of this show. Beside the show itself, the organizers schedule so many activities and events for the attendees that if you find yourself getting bored, it’s your own fault.

At the Saturday night Cigar Dinner, we were treated to the presentation of the CPCC’s Doctor of Pipes awards. This year’s recipients were two very deserving members, the CPCC’s own Rex Poggenpohl, whose knowledge of the hobby and contributions to it are well known within the community. Also honored was one of the most accomplished of American pipe makers, Lee von Erck. Lee’s long time commitment to his craft and the pipe shows, along with his unique designs and detail work make him stand out. It was great to see both men receiving recognition.

From time to time, I’ll hear exhibitors talking about whether it was worth it to be at a show. I can honestly say that I’ve never attended one that I didn’t believe benefitted our company. Making contact with even one person who didn’t know about us, or who haven’t tried our products is valuable. AAs long as the powers that be see the same things that I do, we’ll be at every one we can.


About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for 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 or by calling 1-800-494-9144.