Historical Scottsdale tobacco shop draws celebrities


Tucked away along downtown Scottsdale’s Fifth Avenue stands what is proclaimed the Valley’s oldest continually operated tobacco shop, where “captains and kings can meet with the common man, but on equal terms.”

Local fiction writer Dixon Hill coined that phrase when describing Ford Haig Tobacconist, which has been open since at least the late 1950s. The company proudly touts itself as the oldest in metro Phoenix and one of the oldest in the state. It originally was located on First Avenue in Old Town and moved to its current location, at 7070 E. Fifth Ave., in the mid-1990s.

Hill and other longtime patrons say Ford Haig has always been more than just a place where people buy their tobacco and leave. Hill wrote the history of the business for the Scottsdale Historical Society and has been frequenting the shop since 1994.

“In the past, when I worked as a reporter, I could listen to people in influential positions talk about various subjects,” Hill said. “The rule was whenever you’re in the shop, whatever was said was off the record, so they could speak freely. If I thought there was a story, I’d follow them outside and ask if we could go on the record.”

Among those influential people were members of the Scottsdale City Council, police officers and firefighters, and others who ran the city “deep in its bowels,” he said.

Hill remembers when a city employee in charge of naming streets stopped by frustrated because he couldn’t think of any names, and asked patrons for suggestions.

“There was a delivery guy, who probably made under $30,000, who would sit there and shoot the breeze with a fellow who was vice president of Coldwell Banker,” he said. “Where else are those two actually going to bump into each other? It’s just a case of they know each other from there.”

In addition, famous people have long been associated with Ford Haig. Bill Cosby used to buy cigars and pipe tobacco there.

Dick Van Dyke used to drop in on occasion just to hang out and tell jokes and stories. Milton Berle also bought cigars there, both in person and by mail, and one of his sons was even employed by the shop for about three years in the 1990s.

And during spring training, professional baseball players can be seen frequenting the shop.

How it began

Ford Haig was founded by John Ford and his wife, whose first name was not included in any documents. Her maiden name was Hoag, but the Fords named the store Ford Haig because it sounded more British, Hill said.

The business changed owners numerous times through the decades. It was purchased by New York native Larry Pollicove in the mid-1980s, who then sold it to Joel Schwartz in the early 2000s.

Current owner Mike Bradley purchased the shop in early 2012. He previously worked all over the state in payroll accounting and moved to Scottsdale in 2005.

“I bought it because I’ve been coming here for years, and it’s 2½ miles from home,” he said. “And it’s kind of my passion. It has a nice feel to it. It’s a true mom-and-pop operation.”

Cigar smokers’ haven

Upon entering, patrons see a smoking-lounge area, with reclining seats, tables and chairs, and a big-screen television. There, people gather to smoke cigars and pipes, share lively conversations and watch sports or news.

“We’ve opened up this area, this used to be all of the counter,” Bradley said. “It’s a hangout. I wanted it that way; we encourage that.”

Behind the counter is the humidor, which Hill said he helped build in 1996. Ford Haig had the first climate-controlled, walk-in humidor in Arizona, he said.

The shop has a unique patina, or coating, on the walls and ceiling from all the tobacco smoke over the years, Hill said.

“When Larry first built the shop, it was all out of blond wood, and people would say, ‘Oh Larry, it’s too bright,’ and he said just wait, it won’t be for long,” he said. “And these days that wood has a darker, oily looking patina and the ceiling, it’s changed from yellow to orange, and all of that is from tobacco smoke.”

Bradley said he liked educating people about cigars and tobacco, and enjoys showing off his selection of cigars in the humidor. In addition, the shop features specialty tobaccos, including some blended on the premises.

“We do have a few customers who were coming here from the beginning,” he said. “Our oldest customer is 91, and he smokes three cigars a day. He lives in assisted living, and his son comes in and collects his 120 cigars about every six weeks.”

Chad Rogers, a chemical engineer at AbTech Industries, said he’s become a “cigar nerd” in recent years and likes to stop by Ford Haig for a smoke after work. He lives in Phoenix and AbTech is near the shop.

“I’ll come in here four or five days, or six days a week, most nights, and sit here and smoke cigars with the guys and talk, and hang out while traffic dies down,” he said. “I come here even on the weekends and holidays. I’ve built really great friendships here and in the industry.”

5 things you might not know about cigar smoking

• 1. Unlike cigarettes, cigars and pipes are not addictive, so smokers aren’t driven to smoke continually.

• 2. You need to know what strength you want and how long you want to smoke because that varies among the wide selection of cigars.

• 3. You’re never supposed to inhale cigars, only let the smoke linger in your mouth and then blow it out. Also, you don’t ever relight a cigar later because once its extinguished, it’s ruined.

• 4. Just because a cigar is the most expensive doesn’t mean it tastes the best.

• 5. Some of the best cigars are being produced in Nicaragua.

Source: Ford Haig Tobacconist

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/scottsdale/2014/09/08/historical-scottsdale-tobacco-shop-draws-celebrities/15287703/