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Roanoke Tobacconist Celebrates 100-Year Roll
By Amanda Codispoti, The Roanoke Times

Sunday, March 04, 2012 

It was 100 years ago that Joe Milan, on his way from his native Lebanon to California, stopped by Roanoke to visit an aunt. Milan never made it to California. His aunt gave him a $50 loan, which he used to start the business that would become Milan Tobacconists.

A century later, the business is still strong and well regarded by respected cigar makers and aficionados alike. A number of events, including appearances by one well-known cigar maker, are planned to celebrate the anniversary.

Milan founded the store and then invited his brother Abe to help him run it. Years later, Joe Milan's sons, Herbie, Ellis and Joe Jr., took over the shop. The brothers operated the tobacco store on South Jefferson Street until 1994, when they sold it to a couple from Florida, Don and Myriam Roy.

Current owners David and Renee Meyer bought the business from the Roys, Renee's father and stepmother, in 2000. Renee's brother and sister also work at the store.

The Meyers in 2008 moved the store to the first floor of 309 Jefferson St., a three-story building they'd purchased.

They've since founded the Commonwealth Cigar Club [www.commonwealthcigarclub.com], whose members pay $765 per year for access to the upscale club above the retail store. (The club is a separate entity from the store.)

The couple also started selling products online, David Meyer said. They've seen steady growth in their online sales, which make up about 35 percent of the business, he said.

The shop's longevity has earned it recognition among cigar makers such as Carlos Fuente, president of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia. Fuente has told Meyer that he will commemorate the store's anniversary by making an appearance in Roanoke this spring, Meyer said. A date has not been set.

Other anniversary events include a June golf tournament to benefit a cigar charity that gives to homeless children in the Dominican Republic, an October black-tie dinner, and a gala at the store.

Meyer also is mixing a series of pipe tobacco blends for the anniversary. He's sold 70 pounds of the first blend, "Celebration," since it went on sale in January.

Among the other blends available is one called Rovada, short for Roanoke Virginia daddy. It's a blend that has as much history as the store, because it was Joe Sr. who created it, Meyer said.

Elaine Milan Cronk said her grandfather, Joe Sr., would be pleased to see the thriving business. "I think he kind of knew it was just going to keep going," she said. "I know the next generation, the three boys, had no doubt. They gave it up at 82 years. I am thankful to see a family take it over and continue the family tradition."


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