BY PAUL BICKLEY
When owner Mike Fisher opened The Briar & The Burley, he thought Bloomington’s population of students and professors would be a good market for quality pipes, tobacco, and cigars. He wasn’t wrong, though times have changed.
“Cigar smoking used to be an old man’s thing,” he says. “More college students smoke cigars now.”
The store opened in Dunkirk Square in 1972, selling only pipes, tobacco, cigars, and smoking accessories. In 1976, it moved to College Mall, where it remained for 23 years before relocating to the space currently occupied by Andrew Davis Clothiers. It has now been located at the corner of West Kirkwood and North College since 2009. Each move saw an increase in floor space and merchandise. First, Fisher added wallets and briefcases, then luggage, leather messenger bags, portfolios, and backpacks. Later, came fountain pens, canes, flasks, beer steins, shaving supplies, and other goods.
The store’s name refers to briarwood, the material of choice for pipes, and burley tobacco, a mellow, aromatic, and easily flavored domestic product. In the shop, you’ll find 3,000 briar pipes displayed in five cases. Meerschaum pipes, made from a mineral mined in Turkey, occupy another case. Ten shelves are lined with canned and bagged pipe tobacco, and a 28-by-6 1/2-foot humidor displays more than 300 premium hand-rolled cigars. Best-sellers include Fisher’s own Joe’s Blend, Esoterica pipe tobacco, and Arturo Fuente cigars. Non-tobacco best-sellers include Briggs and Riley luggage and Bosca leather goods.
A highlight is Car Corner, added after the last move. The centerpiece is Fisher’s 1997 Formula Mazda, an open-wheel car similar in style to those in which IndyCar drivers race—and Fisher has raced in it, too.
Today, Fisher says, the shop serves people from all walks of life, and reports a slight increase in the number of women purchasing pipes, pipe tobacco, and cigars for themselves. He credits the store’s longevity to understanding his customers. “We’ve been in business this long because we carry what people want,” he says.
In September, The Briar & The Burley hosted a 45th anniversary party with a buffet, bar, and jazz ensemble to thank customers. The store’s smoking lounge, with 16 red, stuffed-leather club chairs, was standing room only.
For more information, visit briarburley.com.