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New downtown smoke shop raises eyebrows and city revenues

Downtown La Verne’s newest business is the Smoke Shop which opened Feb. 15. The owner, Isaac Farraj, grew up in La Verne and has owned several businesses over the last 10 years. Farraj’s shop offers various flavored cigarettes; different cigars, pipes and tobaccos; and other smoking paraphernalia, including bongs and hookahs. / photo by Candice Salazar

Jason D. Cox
Staff Writer

Downtown La Verne’s newest merchant has some residents concerned for its Old Town image.

Smoke Shop is a tobacco retailer that offers tobacco and smoking paraphernalia – such as hookahs, rolling paper and a variety of pipes and bongs – in addition to the usual tobacco shop products like cigars and cigarettes.

Smoke Shop, on D street just north of Third, also offers products like body jewelry, poker sets, sports and movie collectibles and novelty weapons.

Former La Verne resident Isaac Farraj owns and operates the shop with his brother Firas Farraj, a La Verne resident and Bonita High School graduate.

“I love the community here,” Isaac Farraj said. “You can get to know everyone here in a day.”

Some neighboring retailers were less than enthusiastic at the news of a tobacco shop moving into Old Town. Monica Landi, 23, of Ellsworth Stationers right across the street, first heard about the new Smoke Shop at a La Verne merchant meeting.

“This is not what I think La Verne should be representing.” Landi said.

Alexia Galanis, age 29 of Angel’s Place American Cuisine expressed a similar opinion.

“Considering La Verne is more of a family-based community, I’m concerned about the type of customers they’ll attract,” Galanis said.

Smoke shops in La Verne are nothing new. Two other tobacco retailers already operate within a relatively short distance of D Street, along Foothill Boulevard.

“They have a legitimate interest in being a bona fide part of Old Town,” La Verne Com­munity Development Director Hal G. Fredericksen said. “The customers will determine if it’s the right place for them or not.”

Fredericksen serves as liaison to the merchants of Old Town and has been with the city for 12 years. He was first approached with the prospect of the smoke shop on Jan. 15. Smoke Shop was approved by the city and opened their doors on Feb. 15.

Since then, the city has had to work with the smoke shop owners on minor issues such as prohibiting the use of neon signs, but both parties look forward to a pleasant relationship.

Still Betty Kalousek, the owner and operator of Generations Antiques & Art, expressed personal disapproval, but professional respect for her new neighbor.

“Everybody needs a place for their business,” Kalousek said. “Live and let live.”

Kalousek added that her business has been in Old Town for 16 years, and the absence of Sweet Shoppe & Florist, which the Smoke Shop replaced, was the first vacancy she can recall, a sign of the current struggle facing small businesses.

“I understand that a landlord needs to fill his buildings, but I hope smoking is a dying habit,” Kalousek said.

Fredericksen said that as long as the state of California allows for the sale of tobacco products, Smoke Shop has the same right to do business as any other Old Town merchants.

Yahoo! Contributor Network author Sylvia Cochran’s wrote the article, “Smoking in California: By the Numbers” in which she states that the annual revenue generated by California smokers is $913 million.

According to a recent article in the Orange County Register, there is currently a $20 million campaign to convince California voters to raise the tax on tobacco products by the equivalent of $1 per pack of cigarettes.

With revenue like this and a potential for even more in coming years, La Verne and other California residents are poised to reap the fiscal benefits of a diehard habit.

Jason D. Cox can be reached at jason.cox@laverne.edu.

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