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Historic Cigar Shop On the Move
A two-block move for Milan Tobacconists will be just its second venue change in 96 years.
By Jenny Kincaid Boone, The Roanoke Times

Friday, June 20, 2008

After 52 years at the same spot on South Jefferson Street, a historic cigar shop soon will blow smoke in a different direction.

David and Renée Meyer, the husband-and-wife owners of Milan Tobacconists, are moving their downtown Roanoke business up Jefferson Street about two blocks to a three-story building that they plan to purchase. With the shift, they're incorporating some new additions, including a members-only cigar lounge on the second floor.

The Meyers expect to open their retail business by early August at 309 S. Jefferson St., which previously housed Lee & Edwards Wine Merchants. In 2005, Dr. Lee Tucker, the owner, closed Lee & Edwards and sold the building.

Milan -- with its shelves of stogies, pipes, pipe tobacco and smoking accessories -- has had a long presence in downtown. It opened in 1912 at 102 S. Jefferson St. and later expanded at that location. In 1956, it moved to its current shop at 106 S. Jefferson St.

For years, the Meyers, who moved from Florida in 2000 to take over the Milan business, have sought out a location to buy, rather than rent. They've approached Roger Neel, who owns the Milan building, about selling the space, but they said he's not interested. Neel is a local restaurateur who owns several eateries, including Frankie Rowland's Steakhouse, which is next door to Milan, and Corned Beef & Co. across the street. It's unclear what he will do with the soon-to-be vacant Milan space. Neel was unavailable for comment.

The Meyers wouldn't disclose how much they're paying for the new building, though it's listed for $695,000 on Poe & Cronk Real Estate Group's Web site. The sale of the structure has not closed but is under contract, said Dennis Cronk of Poe & Cronk.

One thing is for sure -- the Meyers, who both smoke cigars, are thrilled to be able to put a stamp on their new space and have control over the business' direction. They plan to outfit the retail area with a larger humidor for storing cigars. Humidors regulate air temperature and maintain 70 percent humidity, Renée Meyer said. At the current Milan location, the humidor is not large enough to fit all cigars. Renée Meyer pointed to some separate shelves where additional cigars are stored because there's not enough room in the main humidor.

Also, the Meyers will open a private cigar club on the new building's second floor, with its own entrance. Customers will pay a yearly fee to use it. The fee includes access to private humidified lockers where members can store cigars. The Meyers aren't yet sure what they will charge for membership, but they plan to keep the club open in the evenings, so that downtown diners can enjoy a smoke after eating. They want to foster an environment where people can smoke a cigar in private and relax.

"There are less places for cigar smokers to go," David Meyer said. "Even most smoking restaurants would not allow cigars." In Milan's current location, a couch at the entrance provides a lounge for customers to enjoy a smoke.

Milan's move up Jefferson Street also will "help spur additional retail up there," Cronk said. Many storefronts have been vacant along this once-thriving avenue for retail in downtown. Already strides are being made to redevelop spaces along this street, such as the recent opening of Signature 9 Gallery. It relocated from Third Street to the former Be-In-Touch card shop at Kirk Avenue and Jefferson Street.

The Meyers have a larger interest than just business in their new downtown space. The Southwest Roanoke County residents eventually will trade county life for urban dwelling. They will live on the third floor.

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