Owner of planned vape shop to move amid outcry from North Adams neighbors
NORTH ADAMS — Just one week ago, businessman Syed Jamal was on the cusp of opening a new vaping supply store, Uniq Vape, at 18 Holden St.
Now, he's looking elsewhere.
Residents of the Holden Street Condominiums have fiercely opposed the presence of a store, just beneath their homes, that would sell nicotine-based products. They have taken to City Hall and to the landlord their campaign to close the store before it opens.
"I'd rather have a peaceful business," said Jamal, who had planned to open Friday. "I don't want to deal with the stress."
Vaping, an alternative to smoking, involves inhaling products, usually containing nicotine, through vaporizing devices such as vape pens, e-cigarettes, mods or tanks. It provides a sensation similar to smoking a cigarette, but the products are not tobacco-based.
The residents contend that in addition to nicotine, the vaping liquid used in these devices contain other chemicals and that it's unclear what health risks they may pose.
Jamal, however, has assured residents and city officials that the products and supplies sold at his store will not be used there. Per newly passed city regulations that take effect in August, he may not sell to people under the age of 21 and the store is not within the city's school buffer zone for tobacco-related products.
The Food and Drug Administration has begun enforcing new regulations on electronic cigarette and other vaping products this year. It warns against marketing the devices as smoking cessation tools and has studied their rapidly increasing usage rate.
Between 2011 and 2015, the rate of high school students using electronic cigarettes increased from 1.5 percent to 16 percent, according to the FDA. According to state Department of Public Health data, North Adams has long been among the cities with the highest rates of smoking.
One of the residents, William Oberst, acknowledged the store is allowed under current city regulations, but he said the city should change its attitude about such businesses through revisions to zoning laws.
"Although strictly speaking there's no violation of the law in terms of its proximity to a school, we residents feel we're splitting hairs here because we're about 900 feet from a school and about 100 feet from Berkshire Juvenile Court," he said. "No one disagrees with the fact that nicotine is addictive, and no one disagrees that e-cigarettes are a nicotine delivery system."
Despite Jamal's assurances that the products will not be used on the premises, Oberst said that the business just isn't a good fit in an already nonsmoking building.
"So they're not going to smoke in the shop? Come on," Oberst said. "That's not an appropriate business for a no-smoke building."
Jamal, who has the owned a vaping supply store in the Berkshire Mall for more than a year, said he has made a substantial investment in the opening the new Holden Street store. Much of that money can be recouped by selling the supplies elsewhere, he said, but his investment into painting the interior of the store cannot.
"I'm the one who's taking all the losses without doing anything wrong," Jamal said.
His only noteworthy hiccup from the city's perspective was the building's sign, which was not approved by the Planning Board. He took it down on Friday.
Jamal said his rent deposit will be returned and he's already actively looking for another location in North Adams.
"This circumstance is a multi-faceted situation and we are working with all parties to resolve it," said Craig Barnum of CT Management Group, which oversees the residential space above the store and is affiliated with Scarafoni Associates, the landlord of the business.
Despite the clear disagreements between the business owner and residents, their relationship has been civil.
"We found him to be friendly, we found him to show a desire to work things out," Oberst said.
Oberst stressed that the residents oppose the business not just out of self-interest, but because it wouldn't be beneficial to the city's progress.
"North Adams is our town and it's not like we're some special group that wants to have things special for us," Oberst said. "I want to really stress that, [because] I think it's easy to draw that conclusion, but it's not the case. We all have different histories and I can definitely say that we're not an elite."
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.
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