Selling Smokes

"A couple of new Oak Harbor businesses are betting that locals who light up would like to save some money.Cigarettes Cheaper has been on Highway 20 in the Safeway shopping center since Feb. 24 and now is joined by Smokes Plus at 721 Midway, adjacent to where Kow Korner used to stand. Both stores boast low prices and serve as one-stop-shopping for smokers. But they are also more than that, offering items that may interest those who are smoke-free.Smokes Plus carries electronics, including telephones, videocasette recorders, televisions, DVDs and video accessories. It also sells hats and clothing items such as T-shirts, jeans, socks and sweat shirts. It has glass candle holders and large, spherical candles which glow like stained glass when they are lit, and an extensive knife collection. “We have a lot of novelty items and stuff,” employee Grace Chung said. “We also have a wide variety of cigars.”The cigars are displayed in a glass-case humidor for easy viewing. Smokes Plus also carries a wide variety of cigarette cases, fancy and novelty lighters, incense and exotic incense burners and pipes, including sparkly glass pipes.Only people 18 and older are allowed in the store.Chung said the main reason people come to smoke shops to buy cigarettes — instead of grocery stores or gas stations — is simply because they’re cheaper.“Also, we carry things people can’t buy at grocery stores such as cloves, non-tobacco herbal cigarettes and imported cigarettes from Canada and Europe,” she said.Smokes Plus is owned by Helen Ho and has been open for just under a month, Chung said. Across town, Cigarettes Cheaper is a corporate-owned competitor. There are more than 730 Cigarettes Cheaper stores nationwide. Because it is corporately owned, it carries four different kinds of store-brand cigarettes, as well as all the major brands, humidor cigars, make-your-own products, lighters, candy, books and stuffed animals.“We sell gum but we don’t sell nicotine gum,” co-manager Linda Draper said. “One customer came in looking for nicotine gum and I told her it would put us out of business.”They also sell pipes, private humidors and a big wooden American Indian.While both smoke stores are doing well in Oak Harbor, the businesses have to deal with political issues unique to tobacco-related businesses. While cigarette companies are under attack from state and federal government, some local people have sent letters to the Whidbey News-Times in protest of the smoke shops over the last few months.In response, Cigarettes Cheaper managers do what they can to keep everyone happy. People must be over 18 years of age to enter the store — without exception.Not more than a month ago, customers and employees of the store could smoke inside the store. Not anymore.“Other businesses complained that the smoke was filtering into their buildings,” co-manager Katie Novak said. “Other (Cigarettes Cheaper) stores can smoke — it’s up to the employees, or in this case, the neighbors. So we stopped smoking inside.”She said smoking inside the building was even cleared by the fire marshall, but they respected the neighboring companies.In addition, there used to be a display by the front window of roll-your-own products.“The neighboring companies thought it was an eyesore,” Draper said. “So we moved it to the back of the store.” "

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