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Store that specializes in e-cigarettes opens on 23rd Street; update on Menards project
I'm not a smoker, and as my struggles to operate my VCR remote demonstrate, I'm not always a whiz with electronic gizmos either. So, although I have heard of electronic cigarettes, I figured they weren't for me.
Jack Tran, owner of a new Lawrence store that specializes in selling e-cigarettes, agrees. But he is betting that the store will be just the ticket for thousands of smokers in the area.
"I'm not recommending this to people who don't smoke already," said Tran. "But I think it will be great for people who do smoke and are looking for a healthier alternative."
Tran earlier this month opened up Juice-E-Vapes, a store that sells only e-cigarettes and e-cigarette supplies, at 1216 E. 23rd St. For those of you trying to picture the location, it is in the building that houses the Avis car rental company.
Perhaps you are like me — a perpetually confused parent — who thinks Juice-E-Vapes sounds like a $2 juice box that my kids will insist on having in their lunch sacks. (That's right, no high tech lunch boxes for my kids.) But Tran explains that Vapes is short for vaping, which is the term that has become associated with the act of "smoking" an e-cigarette. As for the Juice, well, the e-cigarettes are filled with a juice-like liquid that creates a vapor when heated by a battery-powered element.
The store stocks more than 100 different flavors of the juices. Some simulate tobacco flavors, while others mimic the taste of fruit juices, snacks, candies, or your favorite drinks. The juices can be purchased with or without nicotine. People trying to quit smoking can gradually reduce the nicotine mixture.
"What really made me decide to start this store is that I used to smoke cigarettes," Tran said. "About two years ago, I quit cigarettes because I started vaping instead. It helped me a lot in quitting."
Plus, it appears to be a growing business. I found an interesting article written deep in the heart of tobacco country by The Charlotte Observer. It reports that e-cigarette sales are expected to hit the $1 billion mark in 2013, up from $500 million in 2012.
Offshoots of the big tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris are in the process of releasing their own e-cigarettes. Their rapid rise in popularity has created questions about whether scientists understand enough about the health effects of the e-cigarettes and how the product fits in with a host of smoking bans that have been adopted across the country.
The Observer describes the liquid that is heated by the e-cigarette as a mixture of propylene glycol (a common chemical used in many food products), vegetable glycerin, flavorings and nicotine. The article notes that little research has been done on the health effects of inhaling a nicotine-laced vapor.
But anti-tobacco advocates have been hesitant to deride the e-cigarettes because it does appear that a water vapor-based product would create fewer health effects than the traditional tobacco-based cigarettes.
As for how the products fit in with local smoking bans, it appears the bans don't restrict the use of e-cigarettes. The Kansas Attorney General issued an opinion in 2011 that said the use of e-cigarettes was allowed under the statewide smoking ban because the product doesn't involve tobacco or the use of a flame. Lawrence has its own smoking ban, but it is similar to the state ban and Tran says the Lawrence ban allows e-cigarettes too. (I've got an e-mail into the city attorney to confirm that. UPDATE: I heard back from the city attorney's office, and indeed, e-cigarettes are not subject to the city's smoking ban. )
Kansas law does prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to people under 18-years old, which Tran said he completely agrees with.
E-cigarettes have been in the Lawrence market for awhile now, but Tran said many times the product is sold alongside traditional cigarettes. Tran said he wanted to open a store that sold only the e-cigarettes because he believes smokers become too tempted when they enter a tobacco store.
"My goal is to help people quit smoking," Tran said. "I'm against tobacco 100 percent. It really is killing people."
The store is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
In other news and notes from around town:
• When I'm smoking, it usually is the result of me touching a wrong wire as part of a home improvement project. And when it comes to home improvement projects, everybody seemingly wants to know the latest on Menards' plans to build a store in Lawrence.
In short, the project is still moving along, but is likely still a few months from pulling a building permit. Menards has filed its site plan application to build the previously-approved store on the site of the former Gaslight Mobile Home Park, just east of the Home Depot at 31st and Iowa streets.
As we've previously reported, the store has won its necessary zoning approvals from the Lawrence City Commission. Now the project is going through the administrative review that takes place at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department.
From what I have heard, Menards officials are looking at tweaking some parts of the plan related to how traffic accesses the site. Now that Mendards has reached a deal to acquire the Snodgrass property immediately east of the mobile home park, the site has two main roads to serve the property — Ousdahl to the west and a new street on the eastern edge that will be named Michigan. The purchase of the Snodgrass property will allow for the construction of Michigan Street north of 31st Street.
The Planning Department has to review all those access issues before it can approve a site plan. I've also been told Menards officials are considering rearranging some of the other retail lots that are part of the project. The preliminary plans call for six other retail stores or restaurants to locate around the Menards store. There has been talk that Menards may seek to rearrange how the lot lines are drawn to convert an approximately one-acre pad site into about a five-acre pad site, which would allow the project to accommodate a secondary anchor tenant. No word yet on whether Menards is in discussion with possible tenants.
The bottom line is that the project must still get a preliminary plat, a final plat and a site plan approved before it can pull a building permit to start construction on the approximately 175,000-square-foot store. All those approvals are largely technical in nature and are not the types that typically derail a project. But they still may take a couple of months to get through the approval process, folks at City Hall tell me.
I talked to Menards' project manager for the location when he was in town last week, and he said that once a building permit is issued, it likely will take nine to 10 months to build the store.