Brooks continues his tale of tobacco industry
Published 5:03 pm Wednesday, October 25, 2006
This is the final installment on the tobacco industry in Brewton. I hope you have enjoyed hearing about it. I want to remind you that this was written in 1956 by Emmett Brooks for The Brewton Standard.
But the organizers and developers of the local organization were rugged individuals. Many of them had made fortunes in various lines and they had not done it by being pushed around. Never before had their business been run by someone in a Manhattan skyscraper and they didn't intend to be ground under the heel of the tobacco trust.
They said, in effect, “They can't do that to us. We have some of the finest wrapper in the country. We don't intend to sell it at a loss. We'll just manufacture our own cigars and not only make a profit on the raw material but on the finished product as well.”
They Make Cigars
And so, Escambia Tobacco Company went into the cigar business. Of course, it was necessary to steam-cure the leaves but a solution to that problem was quickly found by E.M. Lovelace, the company president. He owned the old courthouse and it was found that with a little insulating here and there the rooms could be adapted to curing the tobacco. Getting steam was no problem either, since Mr. Lovelace and his brother, Yancey, also owned Lovelace Lumber Company just a short distance away on Mill Street (now St. Nicolas Avenue). It was comparatively easy to run a steam line from the lumber company's boilers into the building.
Next came the matter of a factory in which to make the cigars. With their usual resourcefulness, officers of the company erected a frame building on what is now known as “Hotel Alley.” Just back of where the Fair Store is located. It was not an expensive structure, but it served the purpose and was equipped with bins, worktables and other necessities.
Labor is Imported
The question of labor was no deterrent, either. The company simply imported from Tampa eight or ten of the best cigar makers obtainable and put them to work. Be it said to their credit, and that of the quality of the local tobacco, they produced some of the finest cigars that ever went into box.
They were not stogies or cheroots of the three for five cents variety, so popular in that day, but a product for, shall we say, the carriage trade that sold for 10, 15 and even 25 cents each. They bore fancy labels and were packaged in attractive boxes. Nothing was over looked that would create a demand for Brewton cigars from smokers all the way from the banks of Burnt Corn Creek to the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria.
Things were again looking up for the stockholders. That bunch of cut-throats on Wall Street wasn't going to lick them, after all. Where they had counted definitely on indoor plumbing and had hopes for electric wiring in their homes, they now were quite certain that all of them could also own of those new-fangled horseless carriages that were being made in Detroit by a man named Ford.
But once again the directors of the company had failed to learn the facts of life. It had not occurred to them that the same trust that controlled the price of tobacco also had a few things to say about the sale of cigars. It didn't push down the price, for its own interests would suffer. Such procedure wasn't at all necessary. It was much simpler than that to attain the desired results.
Market Cut Off
The big manufacturers of cigars, cigarettes, smoking and chewing tobacco merely passed the word to wholesalers and distributors that handling of the Brewton made smokes would not be at all pleasing to them and might mean that their supplies of the standard items would be seriously curtailed, if not entirely cut off. Quite naturally, the dealers were not interested in handling something that would put them out of business and the local cigars were dropped from their stocks.
With sales restricted to Brewton outlets, the fate of the local company was sealed. It would have taken every man, woman and child in town smoking 24 hours a day to consume even a portion of the output. The factory was closed down and the cigar makes wended there way back to the clime from which they came. The building stood unoccupied for several years and was finally torn down and replaced by a dwelling.
In spite of their dogged determination, those who had launched the venture under such promising circumstances were forced to admit they were licked by an enemy they never saw. It was a bitter blow and one such as many of them experienced for the first time. Never before had they been faced with a situation in business where they were trying to fight on his terms and without a chance to win a foe on a battleground a thousand miles away.
The End Comes
The assests of the company-such as they were-were disposed of to apply on its debts. The acreage on which the bountiful crop had been grown went back into private ownership as a producer of cotton and corn.
Thus terminated another enterprise on which, like many others before and since, the people of the community had pinned their hopes for a bigger and better Brewton. Although nearly 50 years have passed and this city has enjoyed a prosperous growth, tobacco has played no part in it. So far as is known, nobody in this vicinity has attempted to grow a stalk of it since the Escambia Tobacco Company came to such a sudden, unexpected and disastrous end.
Perhaps the reader is wondering by now why this writer has such a vivid and detailed recollection of the first and only tobacco venture in Brewton.
That question is readily answered. In the first place he has been blessed with a fairly retentive memory. Next, as an investor in the enterprise, he lost the first 20 dollars he ever made. And, finally, he was among those who had looked forward with great pleasure to the day when they would no longer have to expose a portion of their anatomy to the chilling blasts of winter while perusing the pages of last year's Sears-Roebuck catalog.
Next week I will get to some more of Mr. Brooks' writing. He was a very good and down-to-earth writer and it makes for good reading.