Questions over Port Jeff’s handling of hookah and vape products has become inflamed once again, though the outcome might just be the loss of one vape shop and the opening of a new smoke store.
Locals have noticed smoke and hookah products moving into a space in Chandler Square next to where The Soap Box resides. Officials said Sanjay Bakshi, the owner of Hookah City, which was located on Main Street, had planned to move from its space there to that new spot but, upon learning of the move, village officials quickly moved in to explain current code requirements.
Village trustee Kathianne Snaden said the village was alerted after residents spotted vaping paraphernalia in the front window. Deputy village attorney, Richard Harris, spoke to owner and is working on getting the issue resolved.
Village code restricts any new vaping stores from opening up in anything but light industrial zoning. All new vape shops or hookah parlors must also be granted a special-use permit by the board of trustees.
Snaden said Bakshi, has agreed to comply with village code and is continuing his work opening in the new space, though now as a smoke shop selling cigars, pipes, tobacco and other products. Harris said the owner understands the code and has moved about 90% of all the vape or hookah-type products from the premises. The Port Jeff fire marshal, Ryan Klimar, has also been to the location and has recommended a few minor changes to the sprinklers and fire extinguisher placements.
“He understands very clearly what he needs to do,” Harris said.
Bakshi said the owner of the previous location did not renew his Main Street lease, requiring the move. The new space, he said, is going to be part smoke shop, part “convenience store” that sells candies and soda. He is getting rid of the name Hookah City and is just going with Smoke Shop, displayed in small letters on the front window.
Bakshi confirmed he does not plan to display any smoking product in the window and that he doesn’t plan to sell any kind of electronic tobacco products like the old vapes and hookahs.
Before the move Hookah City had been able to continue despite the code change, having been grandfathered in under old requirements. In 2019, when the shop was cited by Suffolk County police for allegedly selling a vape product to a minor, village trustees openly talked about what could be done to the shop but village attorney, Brian Egan, said that officials could not impact a business in any major way unless the code was violated.
In the past, Port Jeff constables have sent Suffolk police details of what they said were examples of the store allegedly selling to minors, according to past interviews with Fred Leute, code enforcement chief.
Though more and more smoke and vape shops have reported an incredible decline in sales since New York State officially banned the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes back in May, and that’s in addition to the wider economic impact of the COVID-19 shutdowns.
Schools in recent years have complained about the number of vape products getting into minors’ hands, despite age restrictions. Though the science is not conclusive, studies have shown the harmful and addictive nature of nicotine-based products. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration guidelines are still evolving, but the FDA considers vaping medically unsafe for young people, pregnant women and adult smokers who are not using it to quit the habit.
Still, for village officials like Snaden, seeing the last remaining vape shop go is a clear victory for the local community.
“Anything keeping vape products out of the hands of our children is better for our schools, parents and kids,” she said.