Eighty-five-year-old Fred Chase quit smoking a long time ago. For the past 13 years, though, he has been a fixture at the Maison Edwards tobacco shop in Nickels Arcade.

Sarah Royce
Fred Chase measures tobacco at Maison Edwards tobacco shop in Nickels Arcade yesterday. Chase, who has been working at the shop for 13 years, quit smoking before he took the job. (file photo)

Despite the proximity to so much nicotine, Chase no longer feels the pull.

“I stopped about 15 years before I came in,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me at all.”

Yesterday during Chase’s shift, customers wandered in, purchased individual cigarettes and sat down to have a smoke and a chat.

The walls are lined with black and white photographs of former Michigan sports players and a large display of pipes mounted on a board.

Owner Chuck Ghawi said people frequent the store to smoke and discuss sports and politics with Chase.

“It almost takes on a town hall sort of feel,” Ghawi said.

Some of the more famous regulars have included actor Jeff Daniels, football coach Lloyd Carr and football defensive coordinator Ron English.

“Sports is what I’m mainly interested in,” Chase said.

His advice for the upcoming NCAA Tournament is bolder than a robust cigar – University of Pittsburgh will win the championship.

“I’m probably in the minority thinking that,” he said.

When Chase is talking politics, he’s just as full of strong opinions.

“I guess you’d consider me a liberal. Livin’ in Ann Arbor,” he said. “It’s a pretty liberal town.”

Chase, a veteran of World War II, said he opposes the war in Iraq, calling it a “big mistake.” Likewise, he disapproves of the current economic situation – especially within the auto industry. His beliefs are certainly not inherited from his Republican parents.

Chase’s long talks have helped Maison Edwards attain its status as the foremost vintage tobacco shop in Ann Arbor.

In the 1940s, there were at least three other stores like Maison Edwards in Ann Arbor, Chase said.

“Back then it seemed like almost everybody smoked,” he said. “They didn’t think it was a health hazard.”

The atmosphere, however, has remained more or less the same since the shop opened in 1963, he said. People come in to buy cigars for golf outings, weddings and the birth of children, among other occasions.

“Just like (then), people come in here – and stay and visit,” he said.

– Know a campus character worthy of a profile? E-mail suggestions to news@michigandaily.com.

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