Mother-Daughter Team Debbie Stubban and Jeanette Mouser
Debbie Stubbans husband Milo came up with the business concept for Milos 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. Im the go-to girl when it comes to ordering, inventory and day-to-day operations.
And, in recent years, Debbies 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 wasnt 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 Bissingers chocolate.
Culture, Law and Taxes
The core business is based on what sets cigar smokers apart from cigarette smokers.
You wont 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 Milos 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.
Its 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, theres 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 smokers 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 recipients cigar smoking habits.
My goal when I sell a cigar is to make sure the person who smokes it has an enjoyable experience.
Its 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 its 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 Girls 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 Milos, but she has no regrets.
I love this industry. Its 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.