A local business is losing thousands of dollars every month and being forced to turn customers away-
By Bree Burkitt | December 20th, 2016
while they work to follow a recently approved city ordinance that places additional regulations on shops selling tobacco and vape products.
Big Hit Vapors & MMA Apparel owners Walter and Cindy Cluett saw their customer base grow rapidly ever since they opened their door two years ago.
The store initially received a mixed retail use permit, which requires that less than 35 percent of the total profit can come from any tobacco items, including vape supplies. To meet the ratio, the store at 987 N. Main St. began carrying a mix of MMA supplies, designer purses and jewelry in an attempt to maintain the other 65 percent. From the start, they knew they would be in violation of their zoning permit if their sales exceeded the set limits.
But it was difficult to stick to those numbers when they were the only store that carried exclusively lab certified vapor juices, Walter Cluett explained. Despite the high prices due to the higher quality product, Cluett said they quickly became the most popular store in town.
“We soon became really popular,” he said. “More popular than we really wanted because we had to meet that mixed ratio.”
They even moved to a new location within the same strip mall because it featured a separate, closed off room for the vape products in an attempt to “choke it down a little bit,” Cluett said.
But it didn’t make a difference. While Cluett declined to provide an exact number, he said the sales of vape products likely exceeded the 35 percent limit.
Then the Cedar City Council passed a new ordinance that would make Cluett’s dilemma significantly more challenging. Not only would exceeding the limits find him in violation of the current use permit, but it would also put the store at risk of losing its business license entirely.
The ordinance, which was unanimously approved in October, required stricter checks to ensure that any store carrying tobacco and vape products is not exceeding the 35 percent threshold established by the state that would require them to be classified as a retail tobacco specialty store. Business owners now have to submit two gross receipts for at least two consecutive calendar quarters in order to prove that the sale of any tobacco products, including e-cigarettes or any items used for vaping, account for less than 35 percent of the total sales.
But Big Hit Vapors was unable to even consider becoming a retail tobacco specialty store as the current location was approximately 400 feet from a residential area, which was not permitted under the ordinance. Any establishment classified as a retail tobacco specialty store must be at least 600 feet away from a residential area and more than 1,000 feet away from any schools, churches, public libraries, playgrounds, parks, recreational facilities or “any other spaces primarily for youth-oriented activities”
Cluett knew the store wouldn’t be able to fall below the threshold to avoid becoming a retail tobacco specialty store, which meant he would be denied a business altogether due to the proximity to the residential area. He was faced with the possibility of having to close his business entirely to comply with the new ordinance.
So he went to the Cedar City Council and admitted his problem, hoping they would understand his dilemma and consider some sort of exception.
The council was unable to offer any assistance though because the portion dictating the restrictions on the location was based on state law.
“The way the state law is written we can’t go against that, so what we have to follow (is) what state law says,” Cedar City Attorney Tyler Romeril said during the Dec. 7 meeting.
Cluett was ultimately allowed to re-license his business until his lease ends in 2017 – as long as sales dropped below the established threshold. Plans are already in the works to start carrying ski wear and to launch an online storefront to balance out the sales. To meet the ratio, $170 worth of merchandise would have to be sold for every one bottle of vape juice.
While Cluett understands the law, he says the whole ordeal has left his family feeling as though they have been forced into a corner. He estimated that the business is losing thousands of dollars every month as he turns customers away to remain within the limits.
“My wife and I have sunk everything we have into this shop and we’ve always done whatever we’ve had to do to keep it open,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have many options at this point.”
They’ve now become reluctant to even buy new stock in fear that they will be unable to sell it as they turn customers away, according to Preston Cluett, Walter’s son and co-owner of the business.
The family is now currently looking for a new location that meets the requirements, but it’s been difficult to find an appropriate space that meets the criteria – let alone one that will actually rent to them. One location ultimately turned them down because there was already a dance studio in the same lot.
Until then, the Cluett family is being forced to turn away customers every day.
“I still got people beating down the doors and I have to turn them away,” Walter Cluett said. “My customers are being forced to go to other stores. It’s tough to swallow.”