Walking into E. Crosby Tobacconist is a bit like traveling back in time: the tobacco is measured out in an old-fashioned scale and the cash register is housed in a gorgeous wooden case.
For me, though, the visit last week felt like personal history. You know how sometimes you catch a whiff of a scent and it just takes you back? That happened to me the second I opened the door. I had visited Ed Crosby’s business any number of times with my dad as he bought his pipe tobacco. Though my dad stopped smoking by the time I was in high school, the smell has always been reminiscent. Also, great.
I only have a few more chances to experience this, though: Crosby is closing up shop after 48 years in business.
“It’s time,” he said. “I told my wife I would lock the doors when I turned 65. That was 20 years ago.”
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In addition to wanting to spend more time in his garden (“I’m going to have the nicest-looking yard on the street”), Crosby said that he was spurred to finally make the decision by the increase in the tobacco tax in California. The $2 increase in the cigarette tax took effect April 1; other tobacco products will follow July 1. Crosby said he isn’t sure when his last day will be, but it will be before that.
How he got into the business is a pretty interesting story. In 1969, Crosby, then a surveyor, used to drive to Berkeley to get his own pipe tobacco. On his way out of Modesto one day, he noticed that a watch shop downtown was going out of business. So he looked into the rent, found it was reasonable, and told his Berkeley tobacconist, “I’m thinking of opening a tobacco shop in Modesto.”
“That’s a good idea,” the man responded, according to Crosby.
“How do you do it?” Crosby asked.
He must have gotten a good lesson. After a couple years downtown, Crosby moved to McHenry Village when a spot opened up there. That’s where I remember going with my dad. In the 1980s, he moved one more time, to his current spot in Western Plaza on Coffee Road.
He said pipe tobacco has regained popularity in recent years. “The young guys have gotten into it,” he said. This follows the cigar trend of the 1990s.
Besides tobacco, Crosby used to sell fly-fishing supplies. He got out of that line as he stopped fly fishing. But he also sells other eclectic items, including lighters, pocket knives and sailing-ship models.
“I wanted to make it sort of like a man’s club,” Crosby said. Indeed, the store has that kind of vibe, with regulars coming in most afternoons to play card games.
But they also buy tobacco, as I saw on my visit. Crosby reached into the designated glass jar and measured out the customer’s specified tobacco, weighing it carefully before taking it to that beautiful cash register. Just like he has done for the last 48 years, and just like he did for my dad. And just like he will do for a few short weeks.
“It’s a real loss,” said Andy Fletcher, a friend who handles Crosby’s online presence. “You can sell tobacco and you can sell pipes. But this was a place where a community was built.”
E. Crosby Tobacconist, 2625 Coffee Road, Modesto. 209-529-6200.
Elsewhere around the Business Beat:
Congratulations to El Ranchito Restaurant in Riverbank, which recently celebrated 50 years in business.
Luz Elena Yepez-Tinajero, then employed as a cook at the restaurant, took it over with her husband when the owners decided to sell in 1967, according to a news release.
The restaurant remains a popular stop for locals and passersby. And Yepez-Tinajero is still cooking.
“You can walk into El Ranchito any morning by 9 a.m. and find Mrs. Tinajero and her children (Ana, Carlos, Ruth, George and Alejandro) prepping for the day ahead,” the release said.
Find El Ranchito at 3048 Atchison St., Riverbank. 209-869-0196.