If you are of a certain age like I am, you’ll remember Tinder Box.
In the 70s and 80s, you couldn’t miss the small stores with Tudor facades and tiny walk-in humidors and all sorts of briar pipes, tobaccos and collectibles throughout. It seemed that whatever mall you happened to enter, the probability that you would pass a Tinder Box franchise was very high.
The Cigar Boom in the late 1990s/Early 2000s changed the landscape. The humidors grew considerably larger.
I remember seeing such stores when I was younger – in places like Miami and in many locations in Southern California like the Mall of Orange, the Glendale Galleria and more.
Tinder Box was started in Los Angeles in 1928 by a tobacconist named Ed Koplin, Sr. Sadly, that store closed its doors for good in 2017. A ninety-year run is nothing if not astonishing.
The franchise opportunity became available in 1973, and [my twin brother] Chris’ father-in-law, Jim Cass, was one of the first on board – launching his first shop at the Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem, North Carolina – essentially opening up the Mid-Atlantic region.
Jim started that store as a hobby while he was engaged in his career with R.J. Reynolds. What began in Winston eventually became multiple stores in the Carolinas – and there was a location in Roanoke, Virginia for a time.
Jim, thankfully, is still around, and lives with wife Martha in Myrtle Beach – but Tinder Box of the Carolinas is now generational – headed up by Jim’s son, Craig Cass, in Charlotte. Craig’s sister (my sister-in-law), Betsy Yale, helms the Myrtle Beach location.
Our organization is renowned in the cigar industry, not only by virtue of the longevity of the business and the relationships forged and nurtured with key cigar families, but also due in no small part to Craig’s efforts within the industry, from taking on the Goliath of governmental regulatory overreach as well as his service within organizations such as the Premium Cigar Association (PCA), Cigar Rights of America (CRA) and more.
Exempting premium cigars from FDA regulation is a continuing fight that goes to the lifeblood of the industry, to say nothing of the mom-and-pop businesses that don’t enjoy the deep pockets of their monolithic corporate counterparts.
The cool thing about all of this is that, as with cigar producers, Tinder Box of the Carolinas is essentially a family business.
My experience with the organization began in 1996.
I first learned about The Hulk from Andre
Pope, an irreplaceable friend we lost recently.
I know what you’re thinking: “You are a man in your fifties
who didn’t know about The Hulk?”
Not so fast. The Incredible Hulk was my go-to comic book hero, and in fact prompted my Marvel mania and comic book collecting when I was eight years old. That collecting went on until the early 1990s until I sold the whole enchilada to a dealer for fast cash – and got screwed, of course. But to my eternal regret, I took the money anyway.
I hadn’t thought about The Hulk for a few years, but lately
my girlfriend has had the urge to head outside to an area that might at least
be construed as woods (she is a mountain girl, after all), and it occurred to
me that this spot might, well, hit the spot.
We had already had a nice outing to Vereen
Memorial Gardens – but it was time to get out again, and the Hulk was only
a few miles away.
Despite a bit of a warning from the SC Trails website about potentially being
mowed down by herds of bicyclists, we found the place refreshing – a different
world, but right in our own back yard – and we set off on the trail marked “run.”
Along the way – I think we must have walked more than three
miles – we encountered a few groups of cyclists, but Brenda heard them coming before
I did – and they whizzed right by us, giving us polite but businesslike nods as
we quickly stepped aside.
We spent a couple of hours there – and Brenda stopped frequently to admire the greenery and to educate me a little about the local vegetation. Ever since I have known her, she has always cautioned me about poison ivy – and with my lack of focus, that likely saved me a lot of grief.
It’s nice to know that pockets of tranquility like The Hulk
still exist in an area where the most recognized bird is the (construction)
What made these three gigs special for us – besides doing
our part for a great cause on Saturday – was that we got the chance to see old
friends, meet new ones and hang out with other members of the music community. Gigs
don’t usually happen that way.
Thursday’s stint at House of Blues was the first of our fall restaurant shows there. We’ll be doing every Thursday through December fifth in the early evening. We enjoy the positive vibe and the camaraderie from House of Blues staff, and we’re happy to call many of them our friends. And it’s always a bonus to see our brother for life, sound man Bill Allen. Fortunately, he was mixing on the deck for the Rich Johnson Band. Met Rich for the first time – and said hello to Mark Billings – another House of Blues sound man and friend, who was on the other side of things, playing drums for Rich.
It’s always great to return to LuLu’s for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the venue has its own PA in place – so it’s frontline-only at this colorful and happy spot on the Intracoastal Waterway. Over our engagement, we met some really wonderful and positive people – and reconnected with our friend Travis Ladd, who runs the retail side there. LuLu’s is in the process of building out an expanded retail space, which will benefit the business in a couple of ways; more room for merch and additional dining space.
Just across the way is the Crooked Hammock Brewery Stage – an open-air spot boasting a rotating lineup of local bands. Competitive spirit aside (we have a running gag that LuLu’s should turn their sound up to 11 to overpower what’s coming from across the street), it was a real treat to discover that Sunburst Radio was that night’s offering.
Sunburst Radio is made up of guitarist Ed Dennis (a longtime
friend and Chris’ former bandmate), Ken Thomas (another longtime friend and
drummer), Kim DeCosta (keyboards) and Terry Cohen (bass). The band plays a mindful selection of FM radio
hits with some surprises along the way – including a great rendition of Split Enz’s “I Got You,” which the band reprised in
their last set because he knew Chris loved the tune.
We scurried back and forth from our spot to their spot to try to catch a song, and vice-versa. In the midst of this frenetic activity, we also caught up with more friends.
The Myrtle Beach area is funny that way. Despite the
millions of tourists coming to visit during “the season,” you’re bound to run
into people you know – especially out and about in the fall and winter.
A while back, my girlfriend was feeling a touch of cabin fever. Being a country girl from the mountains of Southwest Virginia, she really needed to get out into nature – if only for a day. And because she also fully understands cabin fever because of her penchant for horror movies, I thought it wise to get out of Dodge with her.
Call it self-preservation if you must.
I need to remember that getting away from my office could actually be a good thing. Because I am usually involved in various projects involving writing or music, I tend to stay “on the grind,” as they say. This is in addition to my “day job” at Tinder Box Myrtle Beach, where Brenda also works.
I’ll admit that it was tough to break away, but once
According to the American Rivers website, Carolina bays are “a type of elliptical or oval freshwater depressional wetland(s) that fill with rainwater and may be periodically dry. They are most commonly found in North and South Carolina, but can also be found from Florida to New Jersey. Carolina bays vary in size from a few hundred feet in length to nearly 5 miles long.”
This preserve is home to the Venus flytrap, black bears, bald eagles and more – but after driving down the pitted dirt road for about a mile with our Kia Soul bouncing around, we opted to bail. Recent controlled burns also took place, so the area didn’t seem like something to explore at the moment.
Wait a minute. What the hell are you supposed to do if confronted by a black bear? I mean, I saw “Faces of Death” in the 80s, under duress…
The South Carolina Trails website
describes the location like this:
“Vereen Memorial Gardens has been a bit of a “Hidden Jewel” for 30 years. The park features numerous hiking trails and wooden boardwalks that extend across several beautiful salt marshes and small islands, with a nice gazebo that overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway.”
After eating the grocery store lunch we brought with us, we
set about exploring. Vereen Memorial Gardens really is a hidden gem – and I
especially loved the “Make a Wish” area where you can hang oyster shells on
tree limbs along with your wishes…
That and the fact that Brenda got her wish to be in nature – and we both enjoyed the experience.