Yesteryear is a 12 year-old smoke shop with a lot of attitude and a close-nit bond with customers

By Gus Bode

“It is better to smoke here than in the hereafter,” reads an old-fashioned sign tacked under a wide array of smoking tobaccos kept in what look like glass cookie jars.

The sweet smell of different tobaccos fills the quiet shop. Its calm atmosphere is only interrupted by the wooden creaking of a door of a cigar humidor. There is a counter-long display of pipe and cigarette tobacco, all of different colors, flavors and aromas.

One of the owners, Bruce Perschbacher, strolls around his establishment with a fat cigar fixed between his teeth. A few of his tattoos peak out from the sleeves of a maroon rugby jersey.


Perschbacher and his wife, Patti, opened Yesteryear Tobacconists, 213 S. Illinois Ave., on Oct. 7, 1991. The walls are covered in rugby memorabilia from all around the world.

“Years of collecting,” says Perschbacher, who is an avid supporter and member of the SIU rugby team, as his eyes dance over the walls.

“A lot of people don’t know what rugby is,” says his wife Patti. “It’s really a hobby of his. People enjoy looking at all the pictures.”

Bruce had managed another smoke shop for 10 years and when it closed, he opened his own.

“He had already done it,” Patti says. “He knew the business and products very well and all the dealers to buy from.”

Yesteryear Tobacconists sells pipes and tobacco accessories such as cigarette holders, papers, cigar cutters, rolling machines, tins and Zippos. They also carry imported and clove cigarettes, but they do not carry the typical brands smokers see at gas stations.

“You can get that at so many other stores,” Patti says. “I don’t want to carry what they’re carrying.”


Patti said they have a large clientele of people who roll their own cigarettes because of the taxes going up.

“We have college-aged to people in their 60s that roll their own,” Patti says.

Cigars play the leading roll in Yesteryear’s universe, Patti says. Even though the fad to smoke a cigar has leveled off, there are still devoted smokers.

“People just enjoy a cigar,” Patti says. “As a way to relax or after a good meal.”

Patti says she enjoys a cigar every now and again so that she knows if it’s mild, medium or full flavored. That way, if a customer asks, she can give them an educated answer.

“Please no smoking in the humidor.”

The humidor is a large room specifically designed to keep cigars from drying out. On the floor sit large humidifiers that keep the perfect amount of moisture in the air. The walls inside are wooden and lined with box after box of cigars. The colors range from light browns to heavy, rich blacks. Each cigar has its own smell, its own taste – and its own price.

One of the most expensive cigars in the house is a Diamond Crown Robusto Figurado No. 6. The No. 6, in this case, can set the smoker back more than $20. But for the thrifty smoker, a Judges’ Cave will do just fine at $1.10.

There are gift certificates available for cigars. The morning after Christmas Patti says two men were waiting out front for her to open – certificates clutched tightly in their hands.

“Men like gift certificates for cigars just as much as women do for clothes,” Patti says.

Also, the age-old tradition of celebrating birth with a jovial smoke is kept alive at Yesteryear Tobacconists. Just last Saturday Patti sold a blue box of stogies to the father-to-be of a little baby boy.

At Yesteryear Tobacconists, the customers can sometimes become like old friends or family.

An old man, wearing a fishing hat and a grey cardigan sweater with tattered holes worn into the elbows, walks in and buys a tin of cigarettes. After he lets the front door close behind him, Bruce tells his story:”He’s been coming here for a number of years. He is from up north near Chicago and he started coming down here on vacation to fish,” Bruce says. “He loves fishing down here.”

But first-timers are quickly taken in to the atmosphere of Yesteryear Tobacconists as well.

Yesteryear Tobacconists virgin Clark McVey, 25, an anthropology major, noticed the store while walking downtown. He was on a mission for clove cigarettes.

“I think it’s very interesting,” McVey says. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen any place decorated in the same style, and I like the aroma.”

The shop is manned during the week by Bruce’s parents:his father, P.J., and his mother, Patricia Ann.

“People like to come in and visit and talk to them,” Patti says.

Patricia Ann sits quietly behind the counter, occasionally getting up to dust around the displays. A young woman, buying a pack of American Spirit Lights, asks her a question, “How do they make a cigarette lighter?”

“I don’t know, but I wish they made cookies that way,” was Patricia Ann’s gentle reply, accompanied by a small giggle.

There is a worn green chair nestled in the front corner of the store. Next to the chair is an old standing cigarette ashtray with a small box of matches perched on its lip. Looking up from the chair reads a sign:”Sit back. Savor a smoke. Turn over a new leaf.”

Sometimes people will come into the store and buy a cigar, sit down for a chat and smoke it in the shop, says Patricia Ann.

“We enjoy working here. We meet a lot of nice people,” Patricia Ann says. “We’ve got the best customers you could ask for.”

Michael Stephanidis, 20, a major in plant and soil science, gazes at the cluttered walls of the shop while he waits in line at the register.

“I always like looking around here,” he says to Patricia Ann.

Stephanidis has been a patron of Yesteryear once every two weeks for the past two years. He stops in for a tin of American Spirit tobacco, papers and filters. Stephanidis says he can roll a pack of cigarettes in five minutes and it saves him a lot of money.

“If you have to wait a minute it’s a cool place to look around,” Stephanidis says.

Reporter Arin Thompson can be reached at [email protected] 30