Las Vegas 2015:
Yet Another Record-Breaking Year for the West Coast Pipe Show
By Steve Johnson
Southwest Pipe & Cigar League
I’ve been covering these events since the first one in 2009. I shouldn’t be surprised about it anymore, and yet I am – WCPS keeps getting better and better! Yep, that’s what I said in my last report, and it certainly applies as we begin this one.
On Friday November 6, it was time to hit the road for Las Vegas. Unfortunately, a few things got in the way of any hope for my usual early departure, and when I arrived at the Palace Station Hotel, the preshow festivities were already over. But that’s okay, as the real festivities were just hours away from starting…
At 8 on Saturday morning, the exhibitors began assembling their displays. While last minute no-shows are to be expected at any event, I counted only 2 or 3 empty tables this time, so WCPS 2015 broke a nice record right from the get-go. With 105 tables filled to capacity and a long line forming up to open the show at 10, it was off to the races! Those who wanted to try their luck with the weekend raffle had a good selection of high-grade pipes, tobaccos, and pipe-related items for review at the admissions table. Raffle ticket sales were brisk, and my congratulations to the lucky winners whoever you are!
Before I continue, here’s my standard caveat. Taking notes and trying to remember the particulars of everyone who exhibited is at best challenging. It is inevitable that some exhibitors got overlooked, so I offer my apologies to those who I did not include in this report. Now let’s check out the exhibitors…
Thanks to its long-standing reputation for excellence, the show has no problem attracting first-time exhibitors. Although this hasn’t come up in my previous reports, here’s a new record worth mentioning now – 11 first-timers in 2014, something like 20 last year. (Could be more!) We’ll lead off with people who made their WCPS debut in November: Franklin and Cynthia Korn of Cynthia Ellen Imports (San Diego, CA), pipemaker Hekthor Wiebe (Manitoba, Canada), pipemaker Abe Herbaugh (Herbaugh Pipes – Augusta, WV), Bobby Nesbitt of Two Friends Pipes (new and estate online retailer – Sandersville, GA), Robert Savage of Old Dominion Pipe Co. (Painter, VA), Ryan Alden (Alden Pipes – Rowlett, TX), OMS Pipes (online retailer of new high-grade pipes – Logan, KY), The Briar King (pipe T-shirts and accessories), The Briar Patch (brick-and-mortar tobacco shop – the last one left in Sacramento, CA after Jon’s Front Street Tobacconist closed in 2014), new pipemaker Max Capps (Philadelphia, PA), pipemaker James Parks (Parks Pipes – Ontario, Canada), pipemaker Rolando Negoita (Atelier Rolando), estate retailer Wayne Gotts (right there in Las Vegas), pipemaker Klaus Zenz (Vienna, Austria), retailer Barlow & Dorr Pipes (Austin, TX), Moonshine Pipe Co. (Charlottesville, VA), and collector Rene Contreras.
Wow, nice list already, and we’re just getting started! As we continue, I’d like to point out some especially notable details regarding these first-time exhibitors: Pipemaker Chris Asteriou came all the way from Greece to show his wares. He’s also an architect – interesting guy! And talk about interesting, Chris accompanied Makis Minetos of A Cut Above. Hailing from Patras, Greece, this was the first time when a supplier coming right from the source could be there to discuss the difficult tasks that go into the harvesting, cutting, and curing of briar burls. If you need a facility to practice your pipecraft, Renee Duvall of briarlab was there to guide you through what this amazing (and in my opinion, completely unique) company can offer. On the tobacco side of things, it was great to have The Standard Tobacco Company of Pennsylvania with us. Partnering with Lane Ltd. and master blender Russ Ouellette, Standard Tobacco has reintroduced the historic line of John Cotton’s tobaccos, as well as Bengal Slices and War Horse. I’d also like to mention another Ouellette connection, as craftsman Dan Chlebove of Gabrieli pipes was there with Russ to represent PIPESandCIGARS. Has Danish pipemaker Tom Eltang been at WCPS before? Nope! Another example of fine partnering as he was there with Jayson Dagner of Dagner Pipes. (If you ever have the opportunity to visit Denmark, be sure to stop by The Danish Pipe Shop and see what Tom and his partners are up to in Copenhagen.)
Okay, we’re up to 23 new exhibitors thus far, although I believe the following were first-timers as well: collector Larry Lampner, online estate retailer pipingainteasy.com, J. Scott Tinker of S. Tinker Pipe & Cigar Furniture (Trenton, GA), tobacco blender Joe Lankford representing the Seattle Pipe Club, and pipemaker Sean Condor of Condor Pipe Works. I have two more definite first-time exhibitors to mention. One is BriarWorks International, and the other is Drew Estate. As an eminently notable name in the world of premium cigars, it was exciting to see that name recently enter the pipe market with the introduction of a new tobacco line and pipes produced by Tsuge. Grant Batson of G. Batson Pipes (Nashville, TN) has been at the show before, although his affiliation with the company is a new part of the Drew Estate story. Well, there’s a segue for you, which leads us to the list of “homegrown” artisans who keep coming back.
For their second year at the show we have Mark Stout of M. Stout Pipes (Ladera Ranch CA), the father-and-son team of Jack and Jim Deschaine (Auburn, CA), Bill Walther of Walther Smoking Pipes (Arlington, TX), and Don Marshall of D. Marshall Handcrafted Smoking Pipes (Buckeye, AZ). Among the makers who’ve been in Vegas for over two years we have Nathan King (this time with fellow maker Joe Hinkle), Nathan Armentrout of Armentrout Pipes (Lancaster, CA), Jared Coles and John Klose of JnJ Artisan Pipes (Fresno, CA), Jerry Crawford of Crawford Pipes (Mesa, AZ), Richard Friedman (Bellingham, WA), Don Gillmore of Don Warren Pipes (Albuquerque, NM), Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes (San Diego, CA), Anthony Harris of Acme Woodturning (Kansas City, KS), Will Jennings (Buffalo, WY), Bob Kiess of Dr. Bob Pipes (Sharon, VT), Scott Klein of Scott’s Pipes (Elk Grove Village, IL), Stephen Liskey (San Bernardino, CA), Michael Lancaster, Brad Pohlmann (Jacksonville, OR), Colin Rigsby of Shurewood Briar Pipes (Ft. Worth, TX), Bob Swanson of Perry White Pipes (Ft. Lauderdale, FL), plus another father-and-son team – Victor Rimkus of Rimkus Pipes
(Edgewood, NM) and Nathan of N.W.R. Pipes (Los Alamos, NM). With all the names I’m rattling off here, there are two that many of us having been missing for too long, but they finally came back in November – Paul and Margaret Perri! I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to the see the “dean of American pipemakers” once again manning a display with his lovely and gracious wife.
Bridging the gap between Europe and America, it was a pleasure to see the return of our Danish transplant-in-residence Tonni Nielsen for the sixth year in a row. Ooh another segue, so the other exhibitors who made their hop across the Atlantic to join us again were British craftsman Jim Craig of Ashton Pipes, and Kjeld Sorensen of Red Hat Pipes made a somewhat bigger hop coming from Roskilde, Denmark.
There was no shortage of tobaccos to be sampled at the show. Besides Drew Estate and Standard Tobacco, Scandinavian Tobacco Group/Lane Ltd., Sutliffe/MacBaren, and Hearth & Home kept lots of pipes going with tasty samples over the weekend. Mr. Ouellette is a major asset to the hobby, and after he had to miss the show in 2014, it was great to see him back in full force again. His Saturday afternoon tobacco seminars have become a major highlight at the annual WCPS events, so our thanks go to Russ for taking time away from the floor to put on a Q&A session in the Palace Station’s hospitality room. Cigar smokers weren’t “left out in the cold” either – how about Lovo Cigars? They’re right here in Vegas, and when it comes to a great cigar presence you’ll find at the show, you can’t get any more local than that!
This covers the returning pipemakers, so we’ll continue with our list of repeat exhibitors on the retail and distribution side: Steve Fallon (Pipestud’s Consignment Pipe Shop on eBay), Sally Gottliebson (The Pipe Tart), eBay retailer Hank Saatchi (first-time exhibitor in 2014, and unfortunately I forgot about that in my last report. He’s also a member of the New York and Philadelphia pipe clubs), Mike Glukler of Briar Blues, online retailer Tobacco Pipe Collectors, Smoker’s Haven (Columbus, OH), David Field (R.D. Field, LLC), Kevin Brackett (Tobacco Pipe Exports), estate pipe seller Robert Denholtz (Fine Olde Briars – Carpinteria, CA), Donald Seatter of James Island Piper (new and estate pipes), Wayne and Cynthia Toscas of Mr. T’s Estate Pipes (Pismo Beach, CA), Mark Ryan of Daughters & Ryan Tobacco, online retailer Smokingpipes.com, online retailer and estate pipe restorer/eBay guru Chance Whittamore (Great Estate Pipes), Brian Levine of Sutliffe/MacBaren, and Robert Lawing of Lawdog’s Pipes (also going under The Pipe and Pint). Then last but not least – Marty Pulvers, one of the best estate people you’ll have the pleasure of dealing with, and a true gentleman!
Because collectors and pipe clubs are a cornerstone of the hobby, their representation at the show continued to be an important part of the WCPS experience. Coming back for their second year, we had collectors Rolf Nestingen (Eau Claire, WI) and Bruce Kaiser (Belmont, CA). The rest of the folks in this category are WCPS veterans, some going all the way back to the first show in 2009: North American Society of Pipe Collectors (represented by John Tolle, Eddie Fleiss, and Jeff Knoll), Lowell Ellis (great guy, and his estate pipes are always priced fairly), Joe Kappell, Al Grosskopf, Tom Pfaeffle and Tim Dowell (good friends from the Northern California Pipe Show days), Mike Edborg, Rex Poggenpohl of the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club, collector extraordinaire Dennis Congos, Brian Burk, Andy Camire, Mark Helfin, and Pete Prygelski.
To round out our roster of exhibitors we had Mr. Steve O’Neill (pulling triple duty as the show’s organizer, host, and a great pipe restorer in his own right), followed by authors Rick Newcombe (In Search of Pipe Dreams) and Gary Schrier (Briar Books Press), Mike Kehayes of Southwest Leathercraft (Phoenix, AZ), and Frank Siurano of Sorringowl & Sons (handmade leather pipe cases and tobacco pouches – Los Angeles, CA).
The ballroom had airtight security over everything, so when 9 a.m. came on Sunday, the exhibitors didn’t need much to get their displays back up. Then it was go time again at 10 as the show reopened to the public. I’ll review my general impressions of the weekend a bit later, but we still have a fabulous night to discuss. And it began when the show closed at 5 p.m. on Saturday, as the hotel security people had their hands full winding down last-minute activity on the show floor. The catering staff had its hands full too – as the afternoon gave way to evening, cocktail hour at 6 provided a nice opportunity for après-show socializing while the caterers were busy doing their magic in the banquet room. Then at 7 the dinner guests filed in, and another piece of show history repeated itself with not even one empty seat to be found.
Compared to the happy chaos we’ll see at the first day of a two-day show, being able to socialize afterwards with friends old and new gives us the chance to relax and enjoy our special camaraderie. While this is a wonderful part of any pipe show, those who’ve had the experience before will agree that WCPS has become one of the premier show dinners in the country. The food being offered at the buffet was up to the Palace Station’s usually high standards, and our dinner included red and white wines compliments of the show, followed by a scrumptious dessert selection with coffee (or tea, if you’d prefer). When we finished enjoying our meals, Steve O’Neill took to the podium and introduced guest speaker Brian Levine. With his many years of experience in the business, Brian really knows how to talk pipes and tobaccos in an engaging, humorous way, and if you missed his speech at the dinner, you can see it on YouTube through the WCPS website. The evening concluded with Steve’s presentation of the show awards to Lowell Ellis (Best Table – congratulations, my friend!) and Brad Pohlmann (Best Pipe in Show). After dinner, the attendees were treated to a special whiskey and tobacco pairing event hosted by Drew Estate and organized by Grant Batson. All in all, it was a fantastic night!
Now for my general impressions of the weekend. I’ll describe Saturday in just two words – nonstop action. As to Sunday, what I said in my 2014 report bears repeating: Conventional wisdom about pipe shows tells us that foot traffic coming through the door on Sundays can be anywhere from slow to pretty much dead as exhibitors clear out early. Well, dear reader, that conventional wisdom flew out the window in 2010 and it hasn’t been back since. When the show closed at 3 p.m., we saw more exhibitors staying through last year than we did the year before, with a level of foot traffic beyond anything I could’ve imagined – even after the incredible Sundays I’ve seen over the last few years. In speaking with a good number of people Sunday afternoon, the consensus is that WCPS 2015 was the busiest, best, and most well-attended of all the shows we’ve seen in Vegas since it went big time six years ago. While this report has included a few nice new angles to my coverage, I have one more. As the old saying goes, seeing is believing, so for those of you with access to a computer and high-speed Internet, stay tuned for the wrap-up after we acknowledge some people who richly deserve a hearty “thank you.”
Everyone who attended the show owes Steve and Linda O’Neill, and Marty Pulvers a huge debt of gratitude for all the tremendous work they’ve been doing. Their success is the reason why the West Coast Pipe Show continues to grow in such a big way. A special thanks to the generous individuals who donated all the items that went into the weekend raffle, and we can’t thank the staff of the Palace Station Hotel and Casino enough – they treat us so well, and do a superb job on all fronts. And finally, I’d like to thank computer guru and webmaster Dennis Smith for maintaining a phenomenal web presence on the WCPS site. Prior to the 2015 show, Dennis had been doing all of his work behind the scenes, but he was both willing and able to employ his videography skills as he captured the big weekend party on digital video. Then after he did his postproduction magic, the YouTube videos from November went live as WCPS has become one of the best (if not the best) show websites you’ll find out there in cyberspace. If you couldn’t be there yourself, go to http://www.westcoastpipeshow.com, and what you see on YouTube may be the next best thing.
I’ll leave you with two pieces of advice. First, if you’re even thinking about being an exhibitor at the show this year, I strongly suggest that you buy your exhibit space as soon as possible – it’s bound to sell out even faster than it has before. Second, if you weren’t able to attend the show last year, you really, really, really missed out. I know it might seem way too early to start making plans, but mark the dates now for November 5 and 6, and do everything you can to be there for the 8th (that’s right, 8th!) Annual West Coast Pipe Show at the Palace Station.
Hope to see you then!