Four years ago, Volcano Vapor Cafe opened in downtown Olympia, making it one of the first electronic cigarette businesses in the county.
But what a difference a few years make, because the e-cigarette has since boomed in popularity, and vape shops now dot the county.
The latest entry is Palm Beach Vapors, an Oklahoma-based franchise that has attracted Lacey owners Brian and Traci Van Howling.
Brian, 36, is set to complete a 13-year career in the Army, including time spent at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Van Howling learned to fly a helicopter in the military, but didn’t record enough flying hours to transition to the commercial helicopter industry, he said.
Instead, he decided to go into business, first considering a countertop installation business, followed by a restaurant. But Van Howling was unable to secure a loan for the business because he couldn’t demonstrate any previous business experience.
So he and his wife, Traci, decided to become franchise owners, because the financing arrangement — Van Howling received a 25 percent discount on his franchise fee for being a veteran — differed from that of a bank. They also have experience with e-cigs because both kicked longtime tobacco habits by using the product. Brian chewed tobacco for years, while Traci smoked, they said.
That’s also the driving force behind the creation of Palm Beach Vapors, said Chip Paul, co-founder of the business with his wife, Cindy. Formed in 2013 in the Tulsa area of Oklahoma, Palm Beach Vapors now has 18 locations in 12 states. The Van Howling business marks their first location in Washington state.
Paul said he kicked a $500-a-month cigar habit by switching to an e-cig, a device that emits a nicotine-and-flavor-infused vapor instead of smoke. His wife did the same and gave up a pack-a-day habit, he said.
But both were turned off by the existing vape shops at the time, describing the customer service experience as rude and uninformed. That led to the creation of Palm Beach Vapors, which emphasizes customer service, bright interiors and a seaside theme for its decor.
That appealed to Traci Van Howling, who said she wanted to get away from the type of vape shop that doesn’t feel warm and inviting.
They plan to add to the decor by including patio furniture to match the beach theme, she said. An aquarium is already in place.
“Come join us,” she said to her future customers. “We want you to learn about us so we can learn about you.”
Palm Beach Vapors
Owners: Brian and Traci Van Howling
Location: 8205 Martin Way E. Lacey.
Years in business: New. Business plans to open Monday. A grand opening is set for the second week of March.
Type of business: Retailer of vaping products — also known as the electronic cigarette — and a variety of flavors for the product.
Hours: Initially, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.
Online: Find Palm Beach Vapors on Facebook.
Did you know? Brian Van Howling is set to complete 13 years in the Army in May. Originally from New Jersey, Van Howling learned to fly a helicopter in the military. Vaping is not without controversy. The Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health voted unanimously this year to treat the products like cigarettes by banning them in all public places and worksites in Pierce County. The vote also makes it illegal for minors to possess the products.