Minnesotan To Meet: Pipe Maker Rich Lewis & His Son
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There are many professions you just don’t see a lot of anymore: Seamstresses, Shoe cobblers — or how about pipe makers?
There is a smoke shop downtown Minneapolis where a father and son are still in the business of making the perfect pipe.
In fact, Rich Lewis has been carving, smoothing and finishing pieces at Lewis Pipe and Tobacco for 42 years.
The Rand Tower at 5th and Marquette is home to many unique businesses,
“I can associate with it,” says Rich Lewis, “It’s vintage like me. My family bought the store in 1969, shortly after that, my father passed away.”
Then, at just 20 years old, “I was suddenly in the tobacco business,” Lewis said.
That’s where Rich Lewis has stayed.
“I was 20 then, I’m 62 now, so that’s 42 years,” Lewis said.
At first, the store had a steady stream of regular customers buying tobacco and cigars.
“Men are pretty simple creatures,” Lewis said. “Give us something to smoke and something to drink and let us be by ourselves and we’re fine.”
But 10 years in, Lewis had a pipe dream.
“I’ve had some customers as long as I’ve been here, more than forty years,” Lewis said.
One of those customers introduced Rich to pipe making.
“I apprenticed over in Italy with some of the really great pipe makers,” Lewis said.
That’s where he still gets his wood, Briar Block.
“Because of the graining of the wood and the styling of the bowl, it makes each one individual,” Lewis said.
A couple of years ago, the family tradition continued. Lewis’ son, George, joined the business.
“Once I pick up the block and start working with the grain to see what I can make out of it,” George Lewis said.
Now they, together, make everything from “armadillos” to the “billiard.”
It turns out, hipsters are some of their top customers.
“They want to do something, like most of us at that age, that is different than what the other people are doing,” Rich Lewis said.
“You want to be able to make a pipe for the everyday person,” George Lewis said.
That’s why they keep their custom work between $300 and $550.
“I have people tell me my stuff is too cheap, but as a kid growing up on the Northside, $300 is a lot for anything,” Rich Lewis said.
And Rich Lewis’ biggest fortune really comes from something he missed out on: Time with his son working on legacy pieces for other families.
“It’s something people can have for the rest of their lives,” Rich Lewis said.
The Rand Tower is the third Downtown location for the store since 1969, but after 8 years, it’s where they plan to stay.
To give you an idea of how long Rich has been making pipes, when he started a pound of tobacco was $3.99 — now it’s $64 dollars.