The first thing a visitor notices when she enters Riegels Pipe and Tobacco on Calhoun Street is the sweet scent of pipe smoke. Its not overpowering – but pleasant and inviting.
Three men are standing at the front of the shop.
One of you has to be Frank, the visitor says.
The older man standing in front points to a man behind a register.
Thats me, says Frank Bougher, 48, who was in grade school when he started working in the cigar shop that once belonged to his great-great-uncle.
Riegels currently belongs to Boughers father – the older gentleman in the shop – but Bougher and partner John Minnich are in the process of buying the store. Boughers hope is to be able to celebrate 150 years of being a family-owned business, a milestone Riegels would hit in 11 years.
Though Bougher (pronounced boyer) started work in the shop when it belonged to his grandfather, he never thought hed get into the family business. He went to school to become a Catholic priest and then, an artist.
But its not easy to make a living as an artist.
I tried to do other things, but it became my fallback plan, he says. I went back to Riegel for a paycheck. Yes, I love the business. As a kid, I wanted to own the business. Now, that being a reality, its bittersweet. I love working with my dad.
Once ownership of Riegels transfers to Bougher, he will be a fourth-generation owner.
My grandfathers uncle was Al Riegel. He bought the existing business, Bougher says. Its been in the family since 1904, making it one of the oldest family-owned tobacco stores in the country.
In addition to being the almost-owner, Bougher writes advertising for Riegels, runs its Facebook page, updates the stores website, helps buy merchandise, serves as clerk and cleans the restroom.
He also serves as a kind of makeshift historian. He has written the histories at RiegelsCigars.com and keeps photo albums and bags of old images in the back room. The images include Riegels in its original location, across the street from its current downtown home, which has been at 624 S. Calhoun St. since 1966 after it moved because of eminent domain.
Theres also his grandfather as a young man, standing in front of the store with a nameless supplier.
When Bougher isnt found in one of his three tobacco stores – on Calhoun Street, in Covington Plaza and in Georgetown Square – he might be in his studio, which could be his basement or dining room table, working on his clay sculptures that will eventually be cast in bronze.
Currently, hes making a 6-foot tall statue of St. Anthony on spec, which means the piece doesnt have a buyer yet, though hes hoping a local Catholic school or church will bite.
St. Anthony is holding a child in his left arm. His right arm is on Boughers workbench, but once it is attached, it will reach out, grasping a small ball of fire that will appear to hover over his hand.
More unfinished pieces are scattered throughout the basement. There are small models, maybe 6 inches tall, that take 30 minutes to make. They are what he shows potential buyers to gauge their interest.
There are busts, like the one he recently started of the Rev. John M. DArcy, the bishop emeritus of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic diocese who died from cancer last month. Most of the bust was created by memory, Bougher says. DArcy was installed as bishop during Boughers first year as a seminarian.
I was quite familiar with him, he says.
Bougher graduated from Bishop Dwenger High School in 1983 and started attending St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, where he received his bachelors degree in English literature with a minor in philosophy and theology. Eventually, he ended up at the University of Saint Francis, graduating in 1993 with his bachelors of fine art, with an emphasis in sculpture.
Since Boughers studio is also a basement, there are the signs of children and family among the artists work: a single drum, books and games, a punching bag still in the box, a small workout station and a box of spray paint.
Then theres a small white board with a sculptors to-do list: faces, hem of robe, raise collar, arm, rock, left sleeve forward, tilt forward, (big toes).
What time isnt taken by Riegels or sculpting is most likely spent playing chauffer. He and his wife have five children, ranging in age from 7 to 15 years – one boy with four older sisters.
Theres not much room for anything else, he says, with ballet, soccer, cross country, choir, band. Most time is spent driving the bus.
Bougher met his wife while he was an art student at Saint Francis, back when he was cycling 100 to 300 miles a week for six months of the year. Today, theres simply no time to bicycle anymore.
Bougher is one of seven siblings, and hes the only one left in the family business. He doesnt expect any of his children to follow suit, given how much things have changed.
Once, Riegels was a destination shop. People came for tobacco products, or they came to peruse the stores newsstand or map selection.
Today, Riegels still sells maps and magazines, but its a much smaller portion of the business.
At one time, this was the major newsstand in the city, he says. The Internet has made a big difference on magazine sales, newspaper sales, as well as maps.
My grandfather used to like to carry maps in his truck and visit gas stations and set them up to be their supplier of maps.
Bougher, who was once an 8-year-old cashier at the store, says his children arent even allowed to step foot in Riegels during business hours, much less work the counter. People cant enter the store unless they are 18, which puts a major damper on the slave labor his ancestors got out of a teenage Bougher and his siblings.
Plus, downtown has changed, which has affected Riegels, he says. The city moved the bus stop, which changed the pattern and frequency of foot traffic that once passed by the downtown store.
And then, theres the ever-growing negativity surrounding smoking. Once a common habit, smoking has gained a stigma, and it has become socially acceptable to scold smokers, Bougher says.
People come in here and tell us we shouldnt be smoking, he says.
Today, Riegels is almost a seasonal business. Christmas barely makes a blip on sales because no one smokes cigars in cold weather anymore, Bougher says, and the focus has shifted to include the lounges in the back of the three shops. Today, Riegels lounges include WiFi, large-screen televisions and satellite entertainment.
Its not a business anyone gets into to get rich, he says. Its something I do for love, (for) preserving heritage.