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Frank Bougher, whose great-great-uncle once owned the store, will soon take over Riegel’s Pipe & Tobacco from his father.

Preserving family history

Riegel’s Pipe and Tobacco prepares to change hands to fourth generation

Bougher poses with the sculpture he is working on of the late Bishop John M. D’Arcy.
Bougher, who received a degree in art from the University of Saint Francis, works on a 6-foot statue of St. Anthony and the Christ child.

The first thing a visitor notices when she enters Riegel’s Pipe and Tobacco on Calhoun Street is the sweet scent of pipe smoke. It’s 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.

“That’s 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.

Riegel’s currently belongs to Bougher’s father – the older gentleman in the shop – but Bougher and partner John Minnich are in the process of buying the store. Bougher’s hope is to be able to celebrate 150 years of being a family-owned business, a milestone Riegel’s would hit in 11 years.

Though Bougher (pronounced “boyer”) started work in the shop when it belonged to his grandfather, he never thought he’d get into the family business. He went to school to become a Catholic priest and then, an artist.

But it’s 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, it’s bittersweet. I love working with my dad.”

Many hats

Once ownership of Riegel’s transfers to Bougher, he will be a fourth-generation owner.

“My grandfather’s uncle was Al Riegel. He bought the existing business,” Bougher says. “It’s 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 Riegel’s, runs its Facebook page, updates the store’s 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 Riegel’s 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.

There’s also his grandfather as a young man, standing in front of the store with a nameless supplier.

When Bougher isn’t 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, he’s making a 6-foot tall statue of St. Anthony on spec, which means the piece doesn’t have a buyer yet, though he’s hoping a local Catholic school or church will bite.

St. Anthony is holding a child in his left arm. His right arm is on Bougher’s 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. D’Arcy, 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. D’Arcy was installed as bishop during Bougher’s 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 bachelor’s 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 bachelor’s of fine art, with an emphasis in sculpture.

Since Bougher’s studio is also a basement, there are the signs of children and family among the artist’s 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 there’s a small white board with a sculptor’s to-do list: “faces, hem of robe, raise collar, arm, rock, left sleeve forward, tilt forward, (big toes).”

What time isn’t taken by Riegel’s 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.

“There’s 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, there’s simply no time to bicycle anymore.

Changing times

Bougher is one of seven siblings, and he’s the only one left in the family business. He doesn’t expect any of his children to follow suit, given how much things have changed.

Once, Riegel’s was a destination shop. People came for tobacco products, or they came to peruse the store’s newsstand or map selection.

Today, Riegel’s still sells maps and magazines, but it’s 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 aren’t even allowed to step foot in Riegel’s during business hours, much less work the counter. People can’t 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 Riegel’s, 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, there’s 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 shouldn’t be smoking,” he says.

Today, Riegel’s 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, Riegel’s lounges include WiFi, large-screen televisions and satellite entertainment.

“It’s not a business anyone gets into to get rich,” he says. “It’s something I do for love, (for) preserving heritage.”

jyouhana@jg.net

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