For decades, the hazy atmosphere of Maison Edwards Tobacconist has been the stomping grounds for the likes of musicians, chemists and actor Jeff Daniels and Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr. Patrons come to the store not only for the tobacco but also for the people and conversations that take place under the cloud of smoke.
In an hour on Monday night, regulars’ conversation in the shop covered more topics than a three-hour game of Trivial Pursuit. Politics, history and cigars, of course, were a part of the discourse.
“The nice thing about this place is you can have a spirited political discussion,” said Steve Bergman, tobacconist customer and owner of the defunct Schoolkids’ Records.
But these conversations rarely turn personal, because everyone recognizes the sanctity of the store, said Bob Schumacher, a customer and University Hospital physician.
“If we got into a fight personally, I couldn’t smoke my cigar,” he said to LSA junior Julian Lizzio, an employee, while puffing on an Arturo Fuente Reserva Anejo Limitada, the rarest cigar at the store.
Maison Edwards only gets one box per year in each of the sizes, Lizzio said. They received three boxes yesterday, and two had been purchased by the end of the day.
In a city that caters increasingly to the health-conscious and eco-friendly, Maison Edwards stands out as an old-fashioned, tobacco-savoring stronghold.
And thank God it has. Bergman and Schumacher said the cigar shop serves a few vital purposes besides being a respite in a student-saturated campus. For example, the cigar shop can help out a marriage. If your significant other can’t stand the smell of smoke, you can hang out at Maison Edwards, enjoy your cigar and drop your clothes off in the hamper as you enter the house.
No such luck for man’s best friend, though: Bergman said he had to stop bringing the family dog to the store because it was getting difficult to get the smell of tobacco off of him.
The conversation abruptly switched to the new music playing in the store. The soundtrack came from an iPod, piping a wide variety of tunes gently into the room. Classical music, polka and even “The Victors” are fixtures.
The mention of polka, specifically the oom-pah style, led to a chat about the music scenes in Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., as well as the Bastille Day festival in Milwaukee.
And then the conversation drifted back to the local Ann Arbor scene from the 1960s and 1970s. The men traded stories about old faces in Ann Arbor – Schumacher mentioned that filmmaker Ken Burns was excellent at volleyball and that musician Iggy Pop had been his camp counselor.
Iggy – or Jim Osterberg, his real name, as Schumacher pointed out – had been a counselor at the Varsity Day Camp. Schumacher said Iggy was a long-haired ball of energy, always running around and trying to convince girls from a neighboring camp to hang out. This stood in stark contrast to Iggy’s father, who ran the camp.
“His dad was like a Marine,” Schumacher said.
The talk about Ann Arbor music continued for a bit longer – especially about a band named the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, whose members used to bring parrots on stage with them. The conversation touched on Belgian bars in Philadelphia, the media’s role in Americans’ fear of death, the use of antibiotics in newborn children and riding public transportation while tripping on LSD.
As the customers prepared to go their separate ways, Bergman again touched on the importance of having a place like Maison Edwards in his life. He said it gave him a spot to reminisce about the old times and pass stories on to the shop clientele that span several generations. Right before he left, he imparted some joking words of wisdom about the world in which he grew up.
“We used to have to walk 20 miles in the snow to buy the drugs to listen to music,” he said.
He then stood up and walked out into the snow.