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Monday, March 22, 2021

Smoke Signals

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Tobacco shop leaves lasting legacy

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.

In 1976, Ralph and Mary Ann Williams built such a place and named it M.A.’s Smoke House after Mary Ann’s initials. Their son, Buddy, worked there from the beginning, almost continuously, and he’s carried their legacy forward until today.

Buddy Williams knows about cigar shops, even though his folks’ place started out as strictly a tobacco shop, a place where one buys fine pipe tobaccos. They crop up on virtually every corner in those old Victorian English dramas. The one that took root in Shreveport’s Eastgate Shopping Center started as a pipe shop, but it morphed into a pipe and cigar store over the years, as Buddy tells it, and it’s special.

“A cigar store is a real unique place. You can go to any cigar shop in the United States, and you’ve got the same cast of characters. They look different, but it’s the same group of guys. You’ve got the intellectuals, and you’ve got the down-and-out guy, unemployed, doctors, lawyers, all kind of professionals come in – all walks of life. And they all get along. They have a common bond, and that’s smoking cigars.”

Buddy Williams started his 45-year journey as a tobacconist when he was about to graduate from Captain Shreve High School. He remained in Shreveport to attend college at LSU-S while he worked full time for his folks. After college, he took other employment but still helped out at the shop.

“I came back to work there full time in 1984,” Buddy said. “Eventually, I was managing it, and I became the owner in 1998. I owned it up until five years ago, and I sold it. When I sold it, part of the deal was I’d stay on for five years under a contract. And then my contract was up, and so I’m getting ready to retire. I’ve done this for 45 years; that’s long enough.”

His history is shared by a lot of his customers. “A lot of the guys that have been coming in all these years, when I was a young man, they were old guys to me. Now they’re real old guys. You make friends with these guys.”

Some of his friends have died. Others will sometimes come in to say farewell as their days dwindle down to a precious few. “They’ll come in and say it was nice knowing you, it was great hanging out with you, and stuff like that. It makes you feel good. Sort of a little feel-good story that they remembered you, and they came by to see you. It’s a little bond, you know. It’s the guys hanging around.”

In addition to the regulars, Buddy said, when the movies were filming in Shreveport, some big names ventured into the Smoke House. Actors would come in, browse and buy something. Sometimes they’d send crew members to shop. Buddy said Nicholas Cage had an assistant do his shopping for him. The regular gang got to hang out with Dan Yeager, aka Leatherface, when he was filming “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D” here. “He’d smoke cigars with us with that old, fake blood under his fingernails,” Buddy said.

In retirement, Buddy says he plans to stay busy. “My wife and I are probably going to do a little traveling. Both my daughters live here, and I’ve got three grandchildren. We’ll spend time with them. I’m an avid tennis player. I’ve been playing tennis for 50 years. So I’ll play tennis, and my wife and I will go fishing, kayaking, and do some traveling. Visit our relatives and stuff, you know, because we’re all getting a little older, and I want to do a lot of this stuff before I get too old to do it. We like to go hiking, and I figure if I wait too long, my knees are going to be shot, and I won’t be able to walk around and do stuff. So I better do while I can, you know.”

What will he miss? “Being around all the guys. You get to know people’s stories. It’s almost like being a bartender. You hear a lot of tales, and I tell a lot of tales. The thing is,” he chuckled, “we’ve all heard the same story a million times, and we keep telling it.”

And, maybe, he’ll drop in to M.A.’s Smoke House because there’s one place in the world where everybody knows your name.

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