The Fire Behind The Smoke at Milo's Tobacco Road

May 9, 2013 

Mother-Daughter Team Debbie Stubban and Jeanette Mouser

Debbie Stubban’s husband Milo came up with the business concept for Milo’s Tobacco Road: a place where cigar smokers can relax and smoke together. And the business has his name but not his constant presence.

For at least the past 14 of the 15 years the couple has co-owned the downtown Edwardsville business, Debbie has been the fire that has kept it going.

“His name is on the door, but I do all the work on the everyday stuff,” she explained, chuckling softly. “I’m the ‘go-to girl’ when it comes to ordering, inventory and day-to-day operations.”

And, in recent years, Debbie’s dedication and hard work have ignited the enthusiasm of daughter Jeanette Mouser, leading Mouser to become the only fully certified tobacconist in downstate Illinois.

“I was a teenager when they opened the store, and I wasn’t too interested then,” admitted Mouser, adding that this changed as she grew older. “And once I got in, I was fully in.”

Working together, the mother-daughter team now shares responsibilities for the Edwardsville store and a second location in Maryville, opened in 2009.

Both stores sell tobacco products, with cigars the specialty, but the Edwardsville store is “the place where we smoke” and Maryville, “the blend store where we have everything else,” Debbie said. The “everything else” includes liquor, craft beer, wine and specialty items like Bissinger’s chocolate.

Culture, Law and Taxes
The core business is based on what sets cigar smokers apart from cigarette smokers.

“You won’t find cigar smokers huddled in a parking lot smoking. Cigar smokers are unique; they block out time to sit down, relax and smoke,” she said, pointing out that Milo’s in Edwardsville was designed to be the perfect spot to do just that -- in a “club” smoking lounge area at the rear of the store.

“It’s the only business in Madison County where you can legally smoke. Illinois requires that 80 percent of our sales be for tobacco and tobacco products for us to be able to smoke here.”

The store hosts lots of social and recreational events for club members, everything from Super Bowl parties to birthday celebrations to tournaments for charity - even an annual camping trip.

But operating a business that deals so extensively in tobacco products can be a very “taxing” experience, she said. From the time the store opened, there’s been the constant threat that state and federal taxation on tobacco could one day put them out of business. Just last July, there was a surprise 36 percent hike in the state cigar tax.

Just the Facts
Cigars are available in a multitude of sizes and flavors and can last anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours, depending on size and the smoker’s habits. Most come from Nicaragua, Honduras or the Dominican Republic and range in price from a couple of dollars to $35-plus, she said.

At the Edwardsville store, Milo hosts a monthly cigar “tasting panel,” akin to a wine tasting, to give area cigar aficionados the opportunity to learn more about their preferences.

If someone visits the store to make a purchase for someone else, store personnel make recommendations based on what the giver can tell them about the recipient’s cigar smoking habits.

“My goal when I sell a cigar is to make sure the person who smokes it has an enjoyable experience.”

It’s a common misconception that cigars should be kept in the refrigerator. In truth, ideal conditions are 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 percent humidity, and humidors provide the best storage. Likewise, you cannot tell whether a cigar is blocked by squeezing it or tell if it’s of good quality by smelling. However, you can often tell how full-bodied a cigar will be according to the color of its wrap.

“You get a lot of flavor from the wrap. Generally the lighter the color (of the wrap), the milder it is.”

Women and Cigars
The demographics for cigar smokers are changing. As a group, they are becoming younger and more educated - and are crossing gender lines.

More women are smoking cigars nowadays, but they are still a small minority. Sometimes women smoke cigars as part of a “Girl’s Night Out;” other times women light up cigars with their spouses or boyfriends. Most female cigar smokers opt for smaller-size cigars and fruity flavored versions.

Not Just a Job
Debbie left behind a career in human resources to run Milo’s, but she has no regrets.

“I love this industry. It’s like going home when we go to convention, and our customers and club members are like part of a large, close-knit family to me.”

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service