Lauren and Ryan knew that they wanted to start a business together, but they didn’t know exactly what it would be until they went on a road trip together in 2013 and ran out of “vape juice” – the nicotine for their e-cigarettes.
“We came across the vaping idea last year when we were travelling on the road and ran out of vape juice, so we googled it and found one in DC. And the light bulb went on — let’s do this. We had thought about having a food truck, among other things, but this is a public health blessing.”
“Vaping” is an electronic version of cigarettes where you can choose different flavors of “nicotine juice” to smoke (such as ‘Unicorn Milk’) and gradually reduce your nicotine levels down to zero. Ryan explains: “I had serious GI issues before vaping. Now I vape all the time. This place is a chance to do something with our life, to create our legacy together.”
When they are not at their shop, Lauren is a nurse at Mercy Hospital while Ryan sells merchandise for a band.
“We wanted to do a project together, something that was ours. We’re not just a vape shop, we’re a community center, and a place to support all our artist friends. I told Lauren, we both wake up each day with one common goal: to help people. We have this store, she helps people in the hospital, and we have a daughter whose life we help to guide every day. It feels good to do what’s right.”
The vaping business is not without its struggles as it is sandwiched between Big Tobacco (traditional cigarettes) and Big Pharma (nicotine patch, the “anti-cigarette”). Vaping is a bit of both: it is an alternative to smoking cigarettes and a way to reduce the addition. However, unlike the nicotine patch, vaping is not officially considered a smoking cessation program, even though you can decrease the milligrams gradually from 12 to 8 to 0.
Ryan describes an experience with a customer who bought a box of vaping juice. “He came back a few hours later, and said that he just received an email from his company that said if there’s any nicotine in your body, you’ll get fired within 30 days. It was a pharmaceutical company.” The policy seems contradictory since the nicotine patch is allowed, but vaping is not.
SweetBriar Vapors opened their doors this year, so the shop has been a novel experience for both of them. What’s their approach to running a business? “Do what you can to be different.” They offer a “vaping bar” where you can sit down to sample the different flavors – business is not just about selling a product, but sharing an experience – and when you look around the place, you’ll see intriguing pieces of art, jewellery, and clothes that highlight the collective creativity of local residents in Baltimore.
Shopkeepers rarely stay still– you’ll notice that they’re constantly finding ways to evolve. Lauren and Ryan are already plotting their next move. “We want to get a license to sell prescription marijuana. The license costs $40,000 a year, so we need to think about the risk, and we’ll need to put bars on the windows for added security. We’re just concerned that the state will withhold the number of prescription cards after distributing the licenses.”
Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, notes that the extraordinarily high fee for the licenses “are almost certainly going to be passed on to the patients, and these are already people who have expensive medical bills and are dealing with debilitating medical conditions. It’s unfair they would have to pay the costs of the program.” (Source: Baltimore Sun)
Shopkeeping presents unique challenges at every turn, but Lauren and Ryan fuel their passion one step at a time. You can drop into their shop SweetBriar Vapors if you’e curious to smoke new flavors such as Unicorn Milk, Sex on the Peach, or Miracle on Ice, or just want to explore what vaping is all about!
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