About four years ago, John Dawson Jr., had a vision for a high-end smoke and vape shop in downtown Spokane that would sell a variety of products, provide useful info for residents and tourists, and become a welcoming place for the whole community.
He and partners found the perfect location on Main Street, near the Davenport Grand Hotel. Dawson and his friends put in three months of demolition and renovation to prepare the space.
But for various reasons, the partnership fell apart and Dawson decided to open his own store elsewhere.
He and his then-fiancee Alexis leased property in Hillyard and opened Kung Fu Vapes. The shop sold components for vaporizers like batteries and cartridges, and they also created their own line of vape pens and pocket rigs.
“We learned everything we could about doing business without any staff or any formal education,” he said. “I also learned how to think like a businessman, including how to not be as aggressive since I had always been more of a street guy.”
The “learning by doing” effort paid off, and the shop was soon making millions in sales annually. John made a point to meet plenty of people in the industry at cannabis events around the country. He also built up friendships with Washington cannabis shop owners and growers.
But he never forgot about the downtown Spokane spot.
“Last fall, we were having dinner nearby and drove by the building. It looked like it had been sitting dormant,” Dawson said.
Curious, he called the leaseholder from the original partnership and learned that a 10-year lease was still in effect, but no one had been inside for at least three years.
After some discussions, a plan was created for John and Alexis Dawson to lease the place for a year, relocate Kung Fu Vapes and then add other high-end elements and inventory, including CBD items and branded high-end apparel. The shop also sells its own products like Kung Fu Vitals and the Quasar, an empty disposable pod that users can fill themselves.
The new location is called Kung Fu Vapes/The Smokehouse, and John and Alexis Dawson and new partner Max Barnes have big plans.
“We have what’s called a snack bar license that allows us to serve gourmet niche beer to customers as they vape and shop,” Dawson said. “This might be the only place around where both of these things can legally happen at once.”
Kung Fu Vapes recently hosted a private “Paint, Puff, and Pass” party attended by about 40 guests who enjoyed locally-made food and drinks while getting creative with art. Vaping of non-THC products was allowed, and those who wanted cannabis could visit a designated off-premises location.
“We’ll be doing more of these events monthly and also offering private membership to our cultivated customer base,” he said.
The new 21-and-over boutique has a big roll-up door in front that’s perfect for warm weather events. They’ll also be adding a game section where people can try to win sneakers.
Half of the building will be dedicated to glass. Co-owner Barnes, who knows many area glass artists, has brought in an assortment of locally-crafted pipes, dab rigs and other glass art for sale.
“It’s a crazy glass scene right now,” Dawson said. “We have so many local glassblowers and artists, but there aren’t a lot of places to find high-end glass.”
The owners are eager to educate the community about safe vape products and current rules. Washington has removed its temporary ban on flavored vape products, but a federal one remains in effect.
In just a few months, they’ve already enjoyed great foot traffic.
“There’s nothing but opportunity here — we should do amazing,” he said. “We love that we’ve grown so much but we also want to make sure we stay local.”
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