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100 Years of Retailing

Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95

(continued from page 1)

"Cigars are not going to kill," states Wally Vail, a cigar buyer for the store. "People don't understand that you can go down into the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee--Appalachia--and see 80 or 90 year olds who are still smoking corncob pipes. And they were born with them in their mouths!"

Even with fewer places to strike a match, Demuth's future looks bright, says Vail. He believes that the popularity of cigars will continue to grow and that the store will survive. "If there are any large changes in the tobacco industry whereby the store cannot continue to break even," Vail says, "it will continue to sell tobacco products; but it basically would be a museum."

* * *

Iwan Ries & Company, Chicago
Established 1857

"We still run our business the same way we did 100 years ago." -Chuck Levi, 58, owner

In 1857, Edward Hoffman dreamed of establishing a cigar store in Chicago. That year, he opened the oldest tobacco shop in the Midwest, E. Hoffman & Co., later enlisting the help of his German cousin, Iwan Ries. Now, 138 years later, Ries' grandson, Chuck Levi, owns the same tobacco shop. It has borne the name Iwan Ries & Co. since 1898, when Ries gained control of the shop after Hoffman passed away.

Levi's father, Stanley, 89, married Ries's daughter in the early 1930s, and took over after Ries died in the late 1940s. It truly became a family business when Chuck entered the operation in the late '50s. Now, his son, Kevin, 25, also works at the store. But Levi is quick to point out that, although the store has managed to survive more than 100 years of changes in the tobacco industry and technology, it is basically the same store it was at its inception.

"We have modernized our marketing and merchandising," Levi says. "But we still run our business the same way we did 100 years ago. My grandfather and father always ran the business with a couple of things in mind: Service is number one and selection of merchandise is number two."

The store prides itself on its vast selection of tobacco products and accessories, according to Levi. He claims that his store carries the largest selection of pipes in the country and about 80 different brands of cigars.

Levi clearly loves the business. The store has never been in jeopardy of closing; Levi attributes this to luck and sticking to the maxim that one must take care of the customer's wants and needs, regardless of how much money he (or she) has to spend.


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