Head shops come out of the shadows as weed becomes legal in Illinois

Abdel Jimenez, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Head shops, once a business catering to the hippie counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, are getting a second life.

The shops, which sell bongs, pipes and other smoking paraphernalia, never really went away. The industry has been evolving quietly for decades as new forms of smoking -- like vaping -- became popular and women increasingly patronized the shops, experts say.

But with recreational marijuana sales set to begin Jan. 1 in Illinois, local head shops -- with names like Smoke Depot and The Zen Den Glass and Vape -- could start seeing customers who never thought they'd cross the threshold of a paraphernalia merchant.

Once stigmatized, head shops are being liberated, and "as recreational marijuana expands into more states, they are going to do whatever to compete," said Sandy Caputo, director of marketing and sales for HeadQuest, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based trade magazine.

Store owners are rushing to stock their shelves and possibly set aside space in their shops where customers can smoke, although local governments have been slow to roll out the regulations that would make it possible.

In Chicago, Ald. Gilbert Villegas, 36th, said he is working with Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration to craft a proposal that would permit on-site consumption of marijuana at dispensaries and smoke shops.


Pete River, owner of The Zen Den Glass and Vape in River Grove, Ill., would like to create a designated smoking area at his store, which he thinks would attract more customers. But it's unclear whether such a space would be allowed.

Lawmakers revised the state act that legalized marijuana to allow on-site consumption at dispensaries and smoke shops, but the legislation gives the final say to municipalities. It's also up to local governments to establish a permitting process.

River Grove hasn't released any details yet, including zoning ordinances for dispensaries, but village officials are working with the community and the board on a plan, Mayor David Guerin said.

In the meantime, River already has seen an uptick in new customers because The Zen Den is near a medical marijuana dispensary.


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