Up in vape; Student helps lead e-cig revolution

By Jonathan Baca, Staff Reporter | Photos by Jonathan Baca8.1 8.2 8.3
There is a new wild west in the world of nicotine consumption filled with billowing clouds of vapor, where the choices seem endless, and smokers everywhere are waking up to a lot less phlegm in the morning.
This is the world of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, and on the edge of this new frontier is the specialty shop Vapor Space.
Vapor Space sells nothing but e-cig products, and manager and CIS student Luke Merry, owner Freddy Olsen, and assistant manager Jordan Tronolone said they have been hard at work here catering to the growing “vaping” community since June.
“What sets us apart is our genuine enthusiasm for vaping. It sets the stage for a high level of customer service. We really want people to get the most out of it,” Olsen said.
E-cigs are a new alternative to traditional cigarettes that proponents, including Merry and his coworkers, believe to be far safer and less harmful than other tobacco products, he said.
Most e-cigs consist of a battery and a small tank with a heat source, which literally vaporizes a flavored nicotine solution, or e-liquid, resulting in a cloud of odorless water vapor, Merry said.
“You can’t say that it’s harmless, but it’s a thousand times less harmful than smoking,” Olsen said.
Vaping has exploded in popularity in the last four years, and in the beginning Merry said he and Olsen were simply enthusiastic converts to the new technology, quickly embracing it and making the switch from real cigarettes in a matter of months.
They both came from computer and technology backgrounds, and soon they began tinkering with the seemingly endless stream of new innovations, and eventually began mixing their own e-liquid, Merry said.
Early on the two had ideas about opening their own store, even though neither of them had any experience owning or even managing a business, Merry said.
“It kind of started out as a joke, like ‘we could make some money selling this stuff,’” Merry said.
Their knowledge and excitement about e-cigs continued to grow, and they started seeing the steady business that other shops in town were getting, so they finally decided to give it a shot, said Merry.
They began to scout out these shops, doing research, testing new gear and deciding on the kinds of products they wanted to sell, Olsen said.
“That consisted of Luke and I doing hours and hours of internet research, and sitting around my kitchen table until 11:30 at night, pretty much five nights a week,” Olsen said.
Eventually, Olsen asked his brother Tronolone to join the team, partially because Tronolone had some business experience from managing several restaurants, he said.
Being a small business owner for the first time is a huge undertaking, however, and Olsen said he still gets nervous about the whole thing from time to time.
“It’s still scary. I still wake up and go ‘holy shit, I own a vapor store,’” Olsen said.
Olsen said his shop tries to cater to every customer, from the first time e-cig user to the seasoned enthusiast who is looking to find the best possible vaping experience.
For those hardcore customers, Vapor Space seems to have found a niche, offering the more advanced, hobbyist level devices, he said.
These high-end models, which can run up to $100, offer seemingly endless options, with variable voltage and wattage, different Ohm resistances, digital displays, and re-buildable, customizable atomizers, Merry said.
“Those are for people who are chasing a better experience. We made a commitment to sell quality equipment only. A lot of shop owners aren’t really mindful of that, so there is a lot of crap out there,” Merry said.
Though Olsen said he understands this view, he thinks that the health benefits of vaping as opposed to cigarettes far outweigh the negatives.
“We fully believe that in a sense this is saving lives,” Merry said.
The FDA has said that they will release an in-depth study of e-cigs soon, but until then, Merry said the whole e-cig business is in a legal limbo of sorts.
Although there are no laws currently governing their sale, Vapor Space chooses not to sell to minors, and enforces their own quality control in mixing their e-liquid, Tronolone said.
“Personally, I think that law should be put in place. We want that kind of regulation,” Tronolone said.
Whatever happens, the guys at Vapor Space will keep doing what they love, Olsen said.
“We believe in this. We’ll roll with the punches,” he said.

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