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Making It in a Man's World

Eight Women Have Defied the Odds to Run Their Own Tobacco shops
Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 4)

"We had some lean years. I think my good fortune is that my husband visits every shop in the Northwest and he sees what the successful people are doing. He can see people who are making mistakes, and he is my partner and mentor," she says. "He has his eyes open all the time, so we are constantly talking about the trends and what he sees people doing that have proven successful for them; this is so invaluable."

Squires hasn't had to suffer from sexism very often. She says that people in the industry have always treated her with the utmost respect, have supported her, and that she always felt very welcomed. That doesn't mean that people don't come in and want to talk to a man. But she says that her "feathers aren't ruffled one bit" when some customers assume that she doesn't know anything about the business. They don't know, for example, that she is on the board of directors of both the RTDA and TAA, a feat few women, or men, have accomplished in their careers.

The Squires have two children, Michael, 11 and Kimmy, 7. Her daughter has already started talking about doing displays for the store, but it is still much too early to tell if she wants to be the next generation, Squires says with a laugh.

Squires believes that the heightened interest in cigars is starting to slacken somewhat, noting that the store no longer sees the huge increases that it experienced the past several years. However, she says that the store is still profitable and that cigar smokers are here to stay. "I see the business continuing in spite of whatever legislation happens in the next few years," she says. "I think this trend is here to stay and the people that have fallen in love with the cigar, people who never smoked a cigar before and are smoking one or two a week, I think that antismoking legislation is not going to stop them."

South of the Squire Tobacco Shop lies the Mission Pipe Shop in San Jose, California. Donna Brown, who started the shop with her husband when she was a nonsmoker, was bothered when customers assumed that, as a woman, she wasn't knowledgeable about tobacco. Years later, an older salesman whom she met at a trade show gave her a piece of advice that would represent a turning point in her career. He told her not to worry, because "men sell bras and they don't wear them." That made her realize that she just needed to know the product well and that if she knew her business, she wasn't going to have any trouble.

Brown, a native of Chicago, attended the University of Wisconsin. After graduation, she and her husband, Bob, moved to California. In 1977, Bob, who was a teacher, bought a small tobacco shop in San Jose called Crest Pipe Store. The plan was that the former owner would continue to run the store for a year until Bob quit teaching to take it over. At the time, Donna was splitting her time between taking care of her two young children, working for a newspaper and helping out at the store one day a week.

One day the store manager had to have emergency back surgery and someone was needed to run the store. Donna took up the challenge. She operated the store for about a year and a half, and in 1978, the Browns bought a larger store, the 1,800-square-foot Mission Pipe Shop, which was located at a small shopping center.

Donna Brown continued to run the store, while her husband kept his teaching position and helped out on Saturdays. In 1981, Bob Brown and a friend, Howard Kushner, bought a tobacco store in Walnut Creek, about 40 miles to the north. The shop, Walnut Creek Tobacco, was located on a main street underneath a parking garage. Donna hired help and split her time between both stores. In 1989, an earthquake weakened the structure of the Walnut Creek Tobacco building. The Browns transplanted the store to a shopping center, but because of high rents and an exhorbitant California tobacco tax, they closed the Walnut Creek shop three years later, keeping the Mission Pipe store.

"The store has always made money," says Donna Brown. "A lot of the stores had started to branch off into gifts and I really did not want to do that. I wanted to do what we did, which was tobacco, pipes and cigars, and I wanted to do it in depth and do it more thoroughly than other people did. Even though a lot of the other stores started to close, our business was always fairly strong." Brown tries to have cigars in all prices ranges, to get cigars that represent value. Yet, two things concern her: the rising price of cigars, and taxation.

"Cigars are just getting very expensive and I am afraid that they are going to price themselves right out of the market. My husband teaches school, and if we weren't in the cigar business it would be very difficult for him to buy a $10 cigar," she says. "In 1989 we took a terrible hit because of the California [tobacco] tax, and they are talking about raising that again. If people want to smoke they are still going to do it, but you get to the point where they are so expensive..." she trails off.

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Comments   1 comment(s)

suman chaniyil — capecoral , florida 33909, usa,  —  June 16, 2012 7:26pm ET

like ur article

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