Fader's is Baltimore's tobacco habit

Jacques Kelly

December 16, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

At age 100, Fader's Tobacconist is showing absolutely no signs of kicking the habit.

Drop by 107 E. Baltimore St. and ask for Barking Dog, St. Bruno, Navy Flake, Condor, Three Nuns or Baby's Bottom.

The salesman, dressed in a well-ironed shirt and a tie, will comply and perhaps suggest you might try some Calvert, Westview, Melvin's Madness or Cave Man's Delight.

Be it a Connecticut cigar or snuff from Oslo, Fader's probably stocks it. Baltimore's oldest retail purveyor of the weed has more tobacco variants than there are no-smoking signs in Columbia.

"Our business is excellent, even increasing. We deal with a pretty upscale class of people," said Ira "Bill" Fader, the third generation of his family to sell tobacco on Baltimore Street.

Fader frankly admits his downtown location is pretty much a man's world. He said he has "excellent" female managers at suburban mall branches at Owings Mills and Eastpoint, but East Baltimore Street, near Light, remains a men's club.

This is a store where Groucho Marx, Sherlock Holmes, Winston Churchill and George Burns would be happy. Customers spend lunch hours here discussing the various merits of Perique, burley and Cavendish as if these varietals of the tobacco plant were traded on the stock exchange.

The air inside is highly redolent of aromatic tobacco blends.

This is clearly a shop of personal service, where the glass counter separates the buyer from seller. And the sales staff dresses -- and acts -- the part, each well dressed and, of course, smoking a pipe.

"Our sales personnel have to look professional. You won't find people casually attired because my customers aren't casually attired," Fader said of his sales staff and customer base.

His tobacco parlor operates under the assumption that a pipe or good cigar is a mark of a gentleman. The shop has counters trimmed in veined marble. Its showcase cabinets have beveled glass doors. There's a walk-in humidor with as many cigars as there are flags representing the countries of Central America.

There is a single cigar, made by Davidoff in the Dominican Republic, which sells for $18.

A box of matches, Swann brand, out of High Wycombe, England, is 35 cents.

"We only sell cigarettes as a concession to the person who wants a pack as an afterthought," Fader said.

Abraham Fader, the shop's founder, was born in Germany. By 1891, the year he obtained a trade mark for his name, he also had a cigar-making factory around the corner on Water Street. His cigar boxes bore the state inspectors' label T.P. 1, for Maryland tobacco products factory No. 1.

The founding Fader's son Ira, trained at Johns Hopkins University as a chemist, used his first name and middle initial B to construct a title for house cigar, "IRABA," which was advertised as an "eight-cent cigar -- something to look forward to" during the early years of this century. At that time, cigar and tobacco shops were as common here as fast-food outlets today.

The family business nearly collapsed during the Depression of the 1930s, when it underwent a profound change.

Baltimore Street was then the city's tobacco road. Fader's had plenty of competitors. Lily Dungan & Co., George Knauer, William Boucher (known for its extensive cigar inventory), A. Schulte and the United Cigar Store were steps away.

"Before that time [1930s], we had been a Mom and Pop shop. My mother began custom-blending tobacco for pipe smokers. She kept records on file cards. It was a subtle change in business, but it moved us into a new direction," Fader said.

A. Fader and Son gradually became Fader's Tobacconists, the store with tobacco mixologists that catered to pipe smokers. Indeed, the shop has thousands of index cards listing the ounce-by-ounce formulae desired by each customer.

Like the pipe smoker whose blend contains the extra-strong tobaccos designed to give it the kick of airborne molasses.

"The smoke is heavy and pungent. When you smoke it, it goes down rather than up," Fader said.

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