I interviewed Jim, owner of Jim’s Smoke Shop and Oddities this past summer and since then, the store has grown tremendously. He’s an extremely friendly guy with a passion for what he does. When you walk into the store, you have a wide array of glass pipes, old video games an movies, as well as a AMD computer (with the promise of a larger entertainment system and video game consoles on their way to be utilized for game tournaments). Located right on main street Arbutus, only a short walk from campus, I would highly recommend stopping by.
You used to work in this smoke shop and eventually took it over. What made you want to go out on your own?
Well, I have been working since I was 16. The first job I had was pretty cool, it was working for this place called Tropical Fish City. My boss was really cool, after that though I just had crap job after crap job and my bosses never really seemed to care about me as a person. They cared more about how much work they could get out of me and, up until now, the guy I worked for before I bought this place – and this is part of the reason that I actually bought it – he was so willing to work with me and he really placed emphasis on me being okay as opposed to the shop being okay and that’s kind of hard to find in an employer. I’ve also never really taken a big risk in my life like this. I think it was Wayne Gretzky that said “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” This could be either really good for me or it could fail but either way I tried and that’s the important part. A lot of people place too much emphasis on their failure. For lack of a better term, fuck failing. It doesn’t matter. It might suck at the time, but it’s the journey to the failure, it’s what you learned at the time. I’m hoping I’m going to be successful, but if I’m not I’ll take it and use it if I want to do something like this again. I just saw the opportunity and I took it.
Running a small business is difficult. Have you ever felt that what you’re doing just isn’t going to work out?
No. As long as I keep doing what I’m doing, as long as I keep trying to… how can I say this? On a daily basis I am looking on Craigslist and looking at artist forums and trying to get people to get their stuff in here and that is exposure in and of itself. All of those people are going to tell people to come to my shop and get their stuff. I haven’t really advertised yet but I plan on it in the future. Right now I love it. It’s hectic, I’m not just an employee here. I make bank drops, I order inventory. It’s just me and I don’t plan on hiring anyone anytime soon. I like being the face of the company. It’s not like walking into Spencer’s where it’s just some random high school kid they hired for the summer. It’s Jim’s Smoke Shop and Oddities and I’m Jim. You’re going to get the best service from the owner.
How would you define a “head shop?” Would you consider yourself a head shop? Tell me about how you view your business.
I like to distance myself from that term just because of the connotations associated with it. A lot of people are still split on the idea of this stuff being freely available especially in a brick and mortar store like mine. Really I like to call myself a smoke shop – I don’t want to call myself a head shop. I mean technically I am, but in the future I’m going to be getting away from that. I’m going to be getting more into a novelty shop that carries glass pipes and water pipes. Think Spencer’s or Hot Topic with glass pipes and water pipes. Very soon I’ll have sci-fi and horror movies on VHS tape. I might carry them on DVD, but I think I’ll stick with VHS because people are really into that analog stuff these days. I’ll have action figures and t-shirts and occult books, just anything that really catches my eye I’m going to stick in here. Anything that I think is odd or crazy or that you wouldn’t find normally in another store, I’m going to carry here.
What do you and your shop bring to the table that is different from other competitors? Why do you think people should come visit the store and how do you plan to expand the shop?
I like to think I have an edge over other stores. Other stores have employees, you don’t ever really see the owner whereas I personally put forth the effort to give the best customer service I can because I am the owner. How I do directly affects my business, how I treat people directly affects my business. I’m extremely willing to work with people when it comes to prices or any kind of problems they might have with anything they buy in here. Due to the nature of product I carry, I do not take returns but I am willing to work out prices on another item if you wanted to pick up another item, or I’d even be willing to replace it.
In the future, I’m going to be moving into getting VHS tapes, sci-fi and horror movies, t-shirts, occult books, action figures. I might even get into video games a little bit, but it would just be niche stuff. Stuff you would have to import or say retro games like Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis. I grew up in the ‘90s, I grew up playing Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo so it’s got a big place in my heart. And I’ve always wanted to work in a retro gaming shop and now I have the opportunity to have my own so maybe in the future I will carry some stuff like that.
You plan to work with Universal Comics, the comic book store right down the street. How will that work and how does this collaboration fit into your plan for the store?
Right now the plan is to carry only stuff from movies. I don’t plan on getting into [comic books] or any of that stuff. They have that cornered and I’m not trying to take money out of their pocket. They’re really cool dudes and they’ve hooked me up with stuff that I’ve just seen in there and I do the same for them. Very soon I’m going to get some flyers printed up and I’ve worked out a thing where they would be willing to do a 10 percent discount in their shop on select items. I think it’s a really good way to bring traffic to not only their store but to the area.
What type of other entrepreneurial experience do you have that makes you confident in your ability to run the store?
I am a musician in my spare time. It’s my hobby, it’s what I love to do. Pretty much I come here, I open up the doors and run my shop then I go home, fire up Q bass and I make it a point to write something whether it’s a drumline, a bass lick, a synth melody. Anything. I always make it a point to write something down so I did something musically. At first I was really into metal, but these days I’m really into making ‘80s style synth music. Think like John Carpenter or Duran Duran or a-ha. Anything like that. I just love that cheesy ‘80s pop music. I actually release my music a little differently than other people do. I release on creative commons. I consume art on a daily basis and it’s only right for me to give back using the talent I have. It’s lead to paying gigs, just with online exposure. I kind of just put it out there and let it do its thing.
For anyone planning to start a business at UMBC, what kind of advice would you give them?
If you’re doing what I’m doing you have to be a people person. You have to be willing to talk to people, you have to be friendly. This is a customer service oriented business. I might be selling a product to my customers, but the only way my customers are going to want to buy anything from me is if I’m friendly and cordial. If I give them good business then they’ll come back, if you don’t then your shop’s going to close. Number one: you have to be a people person, or you work with someone that is the people person and you do the behind the scenes.
What are things that you saw and changed when taking over?
Well the layout of the shop was the first thing I changed and that’s because of the way the shop is shaped. The left side of the shop is actually longer than the right side and when the displays were on the other side, it made the shop look really small and made it look like there wasn’t room for anything. I’m also going to be repainting soon. All the walls are going to be a blackish, gunmetal color and the ceiling I’m going to paint ‘80s neon colors. I want it to look like an ‘80s nightclub when I’m done in here. I want it to reflect me as a person. Everything I love really comes from the ‘80s. Everything about that era is amazing and I want to represent it in my shop.
Where can people find you and learn more about the store? What kind of promotions do you run to get people coming into the store?
If you would like to learn more about Jim’s Smoke Shop and Oddities you can go to www.welcometojims.com. It has directions, it has pictures of the shop. It’s got store hours and my contact info. You can also find me on facebook at facebook.com/welcometojims or just search for @welcometojims. I give student discounts, show me your college ID and you’ll get 15 percent off. I also do discounts for EMT and police and military, veterans and firefighters, they get 20 percent off. Also, I’m not a retail store. I do consignment on art, glass art, anything I think is cool. Please come to my shop with some examples of what you do and if I’m into it, I will carry it in my shop.