Tobacco is as much a part of the Old South as bourbon and blueticks.
There’s a light-hearted exchange on the leaf’s virtue in the 2003 Civil War movie “Gods and Generals.”
“Colonel Stuart, do you use tobacco?” Confederate general Stonewall Jackson asks a junior officer.
“No sir, not in any form,” answers Stuart.
“Neither do it,” Jackson replies dryly, “I find I like it too much.”
Nestled in The Quarter shopping center on Lakeland Drive in Jackson since 1970, The Country Squire is continuing a legacy of offering the finest tobacco and accessories for Mississippi’s pipe and cigar smoking community.
“We pride ourselves on being real tobacconists,” says longtime customer turned manager Jon David Cole. “Everyone here is really familiar with the craft of pipe smoking, blending and pipe making.”
The sweet smell of blended tobacco fills the small store as two customers puff away on their pipes in a corner lounge while watching MSNBC.
The shelves and cabinets around them are lined with the finest pipes from Savinelli, Peterson, Jobey and Stanwell. In the store’s humidor are hundreds of Country Squire’s premium hand-rolled cigars, including Ashton, Esteban Carreras and Opus X varieties.
Owner Kim Owen was in the seventh-grade when her parents Jim and Gwen Reeves opened the shop during a time when Lakeland Drive and nearby Flowood was mostly a two-lane highway through rural farmland.
The whole shop was nearly destroyed by the so-called “Easter Flood” of 1979 when the Pearl River overran its banks and flooded everything from Mississippi 25 to downtown Jackson.
“I was coming home from a date and saw the river creeping towards The Quarter,” Owen says. By the next day the floodwaters had risen as much as five feet inside the store and done severe damage.
“We baked invoices in the oven to dry them out and threw away tons of tobacco,” Owen says. An ABC television crew came floating by and toured the store. Snakes and rats were shot on a regular basis until the water subsided.
“I’ll never forget the smell and I’ll never go swimming in the Reservoir,” says Owen. A water stain on the wall behind her marks the spot to this day.
The store dried out and continued operations after the flood and regular customers for years included humorist Jerry Clower and writer Willie Morris. When actor Samuel L. Jackson came to Canton to star in the thriller “A Time to Kill” he stopped at Country Squire for some cigars.
Heartache as well as high water cast shadows over the Country Squire with the passing of Jim Reeves in 1981 and Owen’s older daughter, Kit, in 2008. The death of matriarch Gwen last summer still saddens many customers who had become as close as family and friends over the years.
“We were really close, it was just a real tough time,” says Cole. “She was the crux of our community here.”
“You didn’t expect this wonderful matronly Southern woman to run a tobacco shop,” says Pineville, La., minister Jack Sawyer, who still smokes Cherokee in his Savinelli. “She never smoked herself to my knowledge.”
“This was her life and breath,” says Owen. “She’d rather be here than anywhere. She would be thrilled knowing that its going so well.”
Jackson attorney and Cigar Association of America lobbyist Hayes Dent has been buying Macanudo cigars from Country Squire since he moved home from Washington, D.C., in 1991.
“We all smoked cigars cause Jim Eastland smoked cigars,” Dent says. “You hang out with your political buddies and have a drink and a cigar. It’s a big deal.” Dent says his favorite smoking haunt is the front porch of his house overlooking the Yazoo River.
While cigars saw a surge in popularity in the economic boom of the 1990s, Cole says that pipe smoking is making a comeback with technology-saturated younger generations longing for a slower, simpler and more contemplative hobby.
“Pipe smoking is coming back because it forces people to slow down and relax. It’s a real restful thing,” Cole says.
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