Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Historic tobacconist decides to quit

It has survived economic slumps, hostile legislation and changes in fashion, such as the rise of the vape. But now the Cape Town landmark, Sturk’s Tobacconists, is to shut up shop.

Sturk’s Tobacconists has called Greenmarket Square home since 1793. But, because of the lockdown, the shop has had no business for more than two months. With the ban on the sale of tobacco products still in place, Sturk’s is unable to pay rent and with its lease coming up for renewal, owner Diane Chakim has decided to lock up and move out. 

“In its entire history, the shop has only moved once, and that was to shift to bigger premises a couple of shops away,” Chakim said. “It was in the Sturk family for a few generations and was sold several times before our family bought it in the 1960s.” 

The lockdown has been the undoing of many small businesses. The owners bemoan what they say is meagre or non-existent support from the government and landlords.

“When the lockdown started at the end of March, we were really hopeful, and for a week or two and we were very understanding,” Chakim said. “Now it’s June. Yet there’s no shortage of cigarettes — the illicit trade is booming.  

“I can’t afford to pay rent in perpetuity and not trade. At the same time, the lease is expiring, so I had to leave. The landlord tried to help, but not as much as we needed. 

“This pandemic is going to have a long-term effect on small business. So many stores are packing up.”

Chakim said the tobacco trade has faced numerous challenges since her father first bought the business. These included new legislation to discourage people from smoking and the proliferation of pavement vendors and cigarette sales at many other outlets.

She said the shop had made its mark by blending its own tobacco for pipe smokers and importing cigars and pipe products. 

“Smoking will always be around. Yes, trends have changed: people are now smoking more loose tobacco and there is a huge trend towards e-cigarettes and vapes. But it will never stop,” Chakim said. 

For now, the shop’s stock is being kept in off site storage with lights and humidifiers installed to keep valuable items in good condition. 

Chakim said she hopes Sturk’s can return to new premises in the city when the tobacco sales ban is lifted. 

“The Greenmarket Square shop is an institution, but we still have the brand. People will follow,” she said.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit is a Reporter, Journalist, and Broadcaster.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Mabuza’s Russian jaunts and the slippery consequences of medical tourism

For more than five years the deputy president has remained steadfast in his right to travel abroad to receive medical treatment

Zondo commission: 10 unanswered questions

Zuma went to jail rather than testify. Some who did told blatant lies. Who decided Cabinet appointments and how much money was carried out of Saxonwold?

More top stories

Ugandan teachers turn to coffin-making after schools close

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the country’s schools closing and teachers being left without jobs

Mabuza’s Russian jaunts and the slippery consequences of medical tourism

For more than five years the deputy president has remained steadfast in his right to travel abroad to receive medical treatment

A new book asks the timeless question: ‘Can We Be...

Ziyanda Stuurman’s new book critiques the South African police and their role in society

‘These people are barbarians’: Police torture in Southern Africa

In Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe torture is used to extract information, elicit confessions, punish or sometimes for sadistic reasons

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…