The world of “vaping” is uncharted territory to nonsmokers, with a mysterious jargon all its own. But it’s an increasingly popular hobby, attracting both people trying to quit smoking without going cold turkey and hipsters who enjoy the social aspect of a place where they can try out new “juice” flavors, the same way that they might chat with friends in a tavern while checking out the latest microbrews on tap.
“I wanted it to be almost like a cigar-bar kind of idea — a place where people can come in and hang out,” says Josh Knudtson, co-owner with his wife Kristyn Knudtson of Steamworks Vapor in downtown Highland. “It has definitely taken off as that kind of platform.”
A full-time member of the Air National Guard at Stewart Field, Josh was a smoker for 15 years and took up vaping in a successful effort to break his nicotine habit. Once he had acquired his basic e-cigarette kit, he found that places that sold them lost interest in the customer once the transaction was complete. “I started going to other shops, and they all had the same thing,” he recalls.
In search of new flavors and gadgetry to make the vaping experience more interesting, he started shopping online, and dreaming of a local venue where fellow vaping enthusiasts could congregate while sampling the latest product lines available. So he and Kristyn, who both grew up in Highland and now have three young children, decided to take a gamble and create a welcoming vaping emporium close to home. Steamworks Vapor opened in July 2015 and became an instant success. “I had no idea it was going to take off like this,” says Josh. “It has blossomed into a really good investment.”
The space at 8 Main Street — a storefront right across the street from Brooks & Brooks Surveyors that formerly housed a consignment shop called the Highland Treasure Chest — is compact but cozy, with a conversation area in front featuring a squashy couch and a flat-screen TV and a juice-tasting bar in the rear, as well as a counter where a vaper can get advice about the latest gadgets for ingesting flavored smokeless vapors. The technology has come a long way from the early days of e-cigarettes that masquerade as the real thing, say the Knudtsons.
Among the trendiest types is the “hybrid series box mod,” Josh explains. “It takes two or more batteries in a series, like a flashlight, which doubles the available voltage from those cells, so you get a ton of power. It produces more heat — warm mist, really — and a fuller feeling. You’re getting a lot more vapor, which means more nicotine per hit…but it’s smoother, better-tasting. The flavors really come alive.”
But wait a minute: Isn’t the main idea to use vaping to ratchet down one’s nicotine intake? Yes, says Kristyn, and the juice formulations come packaged in three concentrations to facilitate gradual withdrawal: six milligrams, three milligrams and zero milligrams of nicotine. “Everything on the bar is zero, so they can taste them,” she explains. “At last count we had 42 different flavors. We just got a new line that comes in flavors like chocolate milk, root beer float, strawberry ice cream, cinnamon Teddy Grahams…”
She acknowledges that the emphasis on sweet flavors contributes to the perception of vaping as a gateway for enticing young people to become nicotine addicts. “That’s one of the biggest criticisms,” she says. “Some products have labels similar to candy. We don’t even carry those…. You have to be 18 and over to even enter the building. We ID everybody.”
“We’re not in it for the money. We’re in it to get people off smoking,” Josh maintains. “But we always want to make sure people have a good experience. We want them to leave the store feeling happy.” Both emphasize the social aspect that the shop makes a priority, hosting events like “cloud competitions.” “We had one in November,” says Kristyn. “People compete to see who can blow the biggest cloud with their device. They make shapes: jellyfish, rings — it’s crazy what they can do!”
If you’re a smoker who wants to quit or cut down, or just experience the flavor variety and camaraderie of the vaping subculture, you can visit Steamworks Vapor from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. on Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The shop is closed on Mondays. For more info, call (845) 834-3633 or visit https://steamworksvaporny.com or www.facebook.com/steamworksvapor.