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Smoke Signals

Jason Newman and Jesse Utterback are sending a message — you might say Smoke Signals — with their Tampa, Florida smoke shop.

Friends since high school, Jason, 36, and Jesse, 38, opened Smoke Signals in July 2016 with a goal to break the stereotype that some still associate with the old school tie-dye-hippie head shop. There were three parts to the plan — smoke shop, art gallery, and glass blowing studio. Even the décor of Smoke Signals is different – the clean white walls, stained concrete floor, modern lighted showcases, and exposed AC ducts give the 1,700sq/ft space an upscale artistic feel.

At Smoke Signals customers will find vaporizers, rolling papers, water pipes, smoking accessories for concentrates, flower, cigars – and everything in between. The Pax vaporizer has proven to be among the best sellers. Jason says not only is Pax backed by a respected brand name, but customers are also attracted to the pocket-size vapes reliability and portability.

“When people hear PAX they know it’s a quality product,” he says. “It seems like other companies are trying to live up to what PAX has created as a brand. . . it’s like the Nike of the shoe industry or a Bentley among automobiles.”

“We spend the most money with our vape vendor – Greenlane – more than with any glass artist or even cigarettes,” Jason adds.

Pipes made from medical-grade silicone are all the rage right now, and Smoke Signals has jumped on board with “Smokapelli” silicone hand pipes, water pipes, and tubes from Shay’s Underground Wholesale.

“It’s almost hard to keep them on the shelf,” Jason states. “They’re cost effective and pretty much indestructible, so people can travel with them and not worry about them breaking. When a customer comes in and says that they broke another glass pipe, the first thing I recommend to them is (silicone) so they’ll never have to worry about that happening again.”

“People are looking for portability and functionality, so there’s a trend that is going away from smokable glass, but that industry will never die —- people will always enjoy a nice artistic glass piece.”

That’s one reason Smoke Signals has an in-house glass blowing studio. Jason and Jesse are learning the craft, and they’re hoping that other’s will be too as well. In the gallery, they already host art nights with local painters and glass blowers showing off their talents. The front of the shop is covered in a multi-cultural themed mural by local artist Cam Parker and the glass studio has a custom sacred geometry design by tattoo artist Kenny Henderson.

“We want to people to come here and have a good time and appreciate art and its many different mediums,” Jason says, adding that being part of the arts community helps to create a “buzz” about the shop, which in turn brings more people through the door to spend money. That’s really the name of the game, but Smoke Signals truly is a good neighbor in their local community. They stages a holiday-time clothing drive for the homeless each year, sponsor fundraising for suicide awareness, and raise money for local high school sports clubs.

“In a sense, it takes a stigma away that people sometimes associate with smoke shops,” Jason says. “We’re one of the first smoke shops in the Seminole Heights part of Tampa where everyone is all about shopping local and supporting the locals. . . when people say they like the vibe at our shop that makes it all worth it.”