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‘Head shops’ seeing greater competition

The two Zanies locations in Spokane and Spokane Valley offer a variety of apparel and smoking accessories.  (Shallan Knowles / EVERCANNABIST Correspondent)
The two Zanies locations in Spokane and Spokane Valley offer a variety of apparel and smoking accessories. (Shallan Knowles / EVERCANNABIST Correspondent)

Time was, you could look in the Spokane phone book and see listings for a couple dozen ‘head shops.’

These days, what with the proliferation of legalized cannabis retail stores, places to purchase your pipes, rolling papers, ashtrays and other tools and accessories are less common.

Oh, you can still find them.

You know the kinds of stores: places where, to the strains of a reggae tune, you can find an array of pipes, bongs and various other types of drug-culture merchandise – accompanied by signs declaring

“These products are intended for tobacco use only.”

Those signs are important because, as Renee Salib said, even head shops – which do NOT sell cannabis – have to abide by the same laws that apply to tobacco sales.

“We operate under the Washington State tobacco laws,” said Salib, owner of Zanies, a retailer that has done business in different locations around Spokane since 1972. “Federally speaking, marijuana is still illegal. We’ve been around that block a lot of times. We operate in compliance with them. Anything we sell is for legal purposes only.”

Of course – wink-wink – what you, the consumer, choose to pack into, say, a recently purchased hand-made, glass-blown pipe is your own concern.

Stepping into either Zanies location, whether in Spokane Valley or just off Northwest Boulevard, is like making a trek back in time.

The North Side site in particular feels like something out of the movie “Woodstock,” with the permeating smell of incense, racks of tie-dyed T-shirts, banner-lined walls and shelves featuring “one-of-a-kind” glassware.

“We just don’t have our long hair anymore,” said Bob Salib, Renee’s husband.

Bob laughs as he says this, but when addressing pretty much everything else concerning their business he and Renee are perfectly serious.

In the course of talking about marijuana legislation, and how state (not to mention federal) officials are making a mistake by not promoting even more extensive use of cannabis products, the couple makes a surprising disclosure: marijuana legalization hasn’t helped their business.

“Actually, our business has shrunk,” Renee said. The reason: “Simply because there’s so much more competition.”

That competition, she says, comes only partly from the 33 retailers doing business in Spokane County.

State laws restrict what kind of merchandise those retail outlets can carry. Some do carry pipes, but most focus more on cannabis products.

“They can’t even sell incense,” Renee said.

The competition Zanies faces comes more from specialty national stores such as Spencer’s, which offers a range of party accessories and supplies, and larger retailers. Wal-Mart, for example, sells lava lamps for less than what the Salibs can buy them for at wholesale prices.

So, Renee says, like other old-school head shops across the state, they’ve had to diversify. It offers more choices in incense, clothing, and glassware. Zanies sells hand-blown glass made by local artist Robbie Mosher, who makes everything from pipes to figurines.

Spokane-area shoppers also can find similar types of products at Peace of Mind, which has four local locations along with shops in Alaska, California, Montana and Oregon.

The Zanies team says with all the competition, pleasing customers needs to come first.

“Our main focus has always been customer service,” Renee said. “We’re your one-stop hippie shop.”

This attitude and being able to adapt to an ever-changing marketplace has allowed Zanies to keep alive a business that began when Renee’s mother and stepfather, Lynn and John Woods, invested $500 to open the original store at the intersection of Division and Buckeye streets.

“We’re the third generation serving four generations now,” Renee says. “If you wrap your head around that, I’ve got people bringing in their grandkids who knew my mother 40 years ago.”

Some people clearly can’t own enough tie-dyed T-shirts. Wink-wink.


 
Tags: marijuana