After 58 years of serving Rundle Street’s smokers-in-the-know, the Savidis family is closing the East End's premier independent tobacco and cigar shop, Smokelovers and quietly ending a chapter in our city's story.
Half a century in cigarettes: Smokelovers will close this weekend
Denise Politis-Savidis says she and her husband, Chris Savidis, settled on the name Smokelovers unanimously.
“We’re both smokers and we’re both lovers,” Denise tells CityMag, laughing.
On March 31st 2019, Denise, Chris and their son, Nicholas, will say goodbye to their independently-run tobacco shop, Smokelovers. It’s time to retire and have a break, “maybe a holiday,” says Denise.
For those who don’t indulge in cigarettes, Smokelovers may not mean much. But for those who do, the effect of Smokelovers closing is akin to the Death Star blowing up Alderaan – the disturbance will run far and deep.
This is because Chris and Denise have supplied Adelaide with flavoured tobacco and cigars – of arguably the highest calibre – for over half a century.
For generations, people with a penchant for smoking begin or bookend their night by popping in to the Exeter Hotel-adjacent institution on Rundle Street. They, like this writer, have seen the faces of Chris, Denise, or their son Nicholas, for years.
With over 14 flavours of unique rolling tobacco (Chris reveals that “cherry and vanilla” are the most popular) and over 32 brands of cigars imported from Cuba to the Dominican Republic – Smokelovers is a stalwart of supplying good tobacco for those seeking it and, despite the scientific proof of smoking to cause cancer, should still be celebrated as an icon of Rundle Street retail.
Chris compares his tobacco selection process to that of a sommelier choosing wine.
“When stocking your shop you need to ask yourself: What is popular, what is good, and what do you enjoy yourself?” he says, adding that a good cigar or cigarette is “the one you enjoy”.
“But people also want quality and difference too,” he continues. “Hence that’s why our tobacco has been so popular. People want something different.”
The Smokelovers story began when Denise inherited the store from her dad in the 1990s. Savat John Politis originally bought the space in 1961, turning it into a retail space to sell and repair shoes. This was before the ecosystem of Rundle Street began to change.
In the late 1980s the produce markets left, making way for boutiques, cafes and bars, and by the early 1990s Denise noticed the street had become largely nocturnal.
“There was a tapas next door, and the Alfresco’s was booming,” says Denise. “The Exeter also came into itself too. It was really more night than day.”
That was when Denise and Chris decided to turn the shoe repair shop into a tobacco-focussed enterprise. They still sold shoes at the back of the shop, but they slowly introduced cigarettes and a dynamic range of cigars for their customers. Tobacco followed after.
“It sort of flourished,” says Denise. “The need for flavoured tobacco came from demands from customers wanting something different. It was globally picking up.”
Since then, Smokelovers has reacted to the times that surrounded it. At the end of 2012, Australia introduced plain-packaging laws aimed at discouraging the sale of tobacco products. This meant that the shopfront went from being bright and colourful to undesirable and hidden.
“The packages – the way that they were originally – were wonderful,” says Denise. “There were golds and reds. But now it has to be that pantone colour, which is ugly. The Government wanted to put everyone off.”
Denise and Chris don’t want people to think that these market pressures forced their closure, though. They just want a break. Denise emphasises this by shouting she hasn’t travelled “since 1997!”
But before the Savidises wrap up their journey, Denise has a message for those in the East End.
“The service we’ve given, and the chance we’ve had with people over the years, that’s been ‘Wow’.”
“People come in for a little chat and it’s not just over the counter, ‘See you later.’ People know us by name. That makes a difference.”
“It’s been personal.”
It would be easy to glaze over the story of a little shop shutting on Rundle Street. But for CityMag it’s precisely these small incremental changes that we’d do well to take heed of.
The fabric of our city is held together by the authentic people in our midst who supply something more than what can be bought and sold over a counter – they create respect due to the pride they take in what they do. If the Apple store closed, you’d find it hard to find five people in this city who could tell you the name of even one of the geniuses who served them there.
Conversely, Chris, Denise and Nicholas have contributed to Adelaide in a fundamental way. They made this city feel more personal and familiar and and they will be missed, even if our lungs are thankful.