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'Roll your own' tobacco business offers bargain prices

I94 Tobacco Outlet owner Tim Mead stands next to the cigarette "RYO Filling Station" in his shop. Mead sells customers the tobacco and tubes, and rents time on the machine for them to make "smokes." In doing so, they avoid paying about $35 per carton in state and federal manufacturing taxes. Photo by Randy Hanson1 / 2
I94 Tobacco Outlet is located in the Hudson Outpost Center, on the south side of I-94 at Exit 4. Photo by Randy Hanson2 / 2

A tobacco shop in the Hudson Outpost Center at Exit 4 on Interstate 94 offers serious savings to smokers willing to try something new.

For $29.99 plus tax, customers can purchase the tobacco, papers and filters to make about 200 "smokes," the equivalent of a carton of cigarettes.

The price includes rental of a machine that automatically stuffs the tobacco into the pre-rolled paper tubes that are attached to a filter, just like a regular cigarette.

I94 Tobacco Outlet invites you to "roll your own" smokes, but it's a marketing slogan. There's no rolling involved, and the RYO (roll your own) Filling Station does all the work.

"The advantage to the consumer is that they are significantly cheaper than commercially made cigarettes," said owner Tim Mead.

"I think it is going to be a success once the word gets out," he said of his business.

Mead, a Hammond resident and full-time sergeant first class in the Minnesota Army National Guard, opened I94 Tobacco Outlet on Oct. 1. He saw another shop like it on a trip to South Dakota and thought it would make a good retirement business for him.

It might, if the Wisconsin Department of Revenue doesn't have its way. The department has ordered all the businesses in the state like Mead's to obtain permits and begin paying cigarette manufacturing taxes or shut down. The roughly $35 per carton of federal and state manufacturing taxes is what makes the commercial brands of cigarettes so expensive, Mead said.

For now, a Dane County circuit court judge has granted roll-your-own shops a reprieve. Judge Juan B. Colas issued a temporary restraining order on Oct. 7 blocking the state from requiring permits and collecting the excise taxes.

A court hearing on the issue is set for Nov. 23.

Mead is hopeful that the roll-your-own shops will prevail. He said they have in other states where the industry has been challenged.

Customers at I94 Tobacco Outlet can pick from six flavors of tobacco and three types of cigarette tube. The tobacco choices range from bold to mild, as well as two Turkish blends and a menthol flavor.

"Most of our customers said they taste better" than commercial brands, Mead said of the cigarettes, which the industry encourages him to call "smokes."

He said he can blend tobaccos to get pretty close to the taste of any of the commercial brands of cigarettes.

The shop is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The Hudson Outlet Center is on the south side of I-94. Call the shop at (715) 690-2440 for directions or more information.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

(715) 426-1066