In the lower level of the Garden City Shopping Center at the corner of Lee Highway and N. George Mason Drive, Jonathan Elias, Chris Bienlein and their friends can be found amidst a haze of vapor, puffing away on electronic metal tubes.
Elias, 30, owns My Vapez, a store here at 5183 Lee Highway that sells vaporizers, a form of e-cigarette. Bienlein is his friend and partner in the fledgling enterprise, but it has become increasingly clear to them that, even though e-cigarettes are a new phenomenon, the market is booming.
Less than a year ago, Elias was a 29-year-old working in information technology when his friend told him about “vaping,” a way to consume nicotine without smoke and without tobacco. The friend had tried the mainstream e-cigarettes like Blu and NJoy but told Elias neither helped him with his smoking habit until he tried a rechargeable vaporizer.
The idea to open a store didn’t occur to him at first. He asked a now-competitor for more information, and he said they ignored him. So he bought 100 bottles of juice and sold them out of his house last March. Once those sold out, he bought even more.
By June he had a decent business distributing and wholesaling juice out of his house when he bought a space in Herndon to sell retail.
“I never expected it to blow up,” Elias told ARLnow.com in the back room of his Arlington location, which he opened in late October. “At first it was a part-time job. It’s still a learning experience.”
Now Elias operates two stores, is preparing to open another in Rockville, Md., but admits he’s not a huge fan of all the work that has come with the territory. He is, however, enthusiastic about his product. Vaporizers help two-pack-a-day smokers quit entirely, he says, and that’s where about 90 percent of his business comes from.
“I’ve seen guys who haven’t touched a cigarette in months,” he said. “People try other things and they don’t work, so they keep coming back.”
My Vapez carries close to 80 flavors and a handful of different vaporizers, which Elias says are incredibly difficult to keep in stock. One of the vaporizers, which are also called “mods,” sold out before it even arrived in store, thanks to My Vapez’s active Instagram and Facebook following.
“It’s so customizable, they even have Hello Kitty tips,” Bienlein said.
Elias says vaporizer stores like his “are on every corner in California,” but his is the first of its kind in Arlington.
One customer was going to India for a year and bought 30 boxes of juice, Elias said. Another drove all the way from Delaware for a particular mod and flavor. Even though most potential customers are just learning that these products exist, Elias is already proving his doubters wrong. The owner of the grocery store next to My Vapez’s Herndon location was originally one of those doubters, predicting that they would go out of business.
“He told me ‘you’re wasting your time,’” Elias said. “Now his outside wall is lined with e-cigarettes.”