What is “Local Glass” Anyway?
February 8th, 2016 by Jay Fratt
What is “local glass” anyway?
Half cocked, this young glass blower went off, “Smokin Js doesn’t support local glass!” This was his introduction to me as I stood in front of him with my badge clearly identifying myself as Jay with Smokin Js. He continued, “That guy is never interested in buying local glass. He has never bought any of my pieces!” I did not recognize this person insulting me, and he spoke about my business as if there is a wizard behind the curtain that isn’t me. I set him straight about the fact that I am Jay and I have never seen him before, nor his glass. He quickly segway into his pitch about the need for my store to sell his glass because it isn’t a true glass shop selling local glass without his artwork. He didn’t know, my business was built on saying “no thank you” to hundreds of glass blowers.
It got me thinking. What is “local glass” anyway? One definition I have heard is a narrowly defined term in which “local” means it comes from the city in which the store is located. Makes sense right, but towns and cities come in all shapes and sizes. Why would you want to restrict yourself in such a way when there are only only so many glass blowers that live in a town, city or region? Furthermore, I did not become an entrepreneur to be relegated or forced into dealing with vendors or people. Entrepreneurship is all about hard work and the freedom that comes from success and survival.
When I first opened Smokin Js in 1997 as Vancouver Pipe & Tobacco, I knew that local glass was created within my region, but I did not know any glass blowers in Vancouver, Wa. I met and enjoyed being with several Phat Katz from Portland, Or (Covelle Glass and Scott Sherrell). They helped get me started in the sale of hand blown glass pipes. After several years in business I met hundreds of glass blowers from Eugene to Bellingham, and Los Angeles to Humboldt. The definition of a local glass blower morphed into a West Coast thing, but more importantly I enjoyed meeting people that I respected as artists and entrepreneurs. With each successful encounter we entered into a mutually beneficial relationship. I take great pride in weeding out the ne’er-do-wells, shady characters, and tax cheats to focus my buying power on hard working family men and women who are striving for success in life and business. It may be corny, but I have always believed in the karma of a pipe from the hands of the creator to the hands of the owner. I want the karma of the pipe to be as clean and positive as possible for my customers. Now-a-days my definition of a “local glass blower” has expanded quite a bit. My industry has been infultrated and saturated by cheap and inferior imported glass pipes. The flip side of that coin is a bloated market of expensive American made glass pipes where even the youngest most inexperienced glass blower thinks his pipes are “super heady.” Every day I try to strike a balance of quality American made glass with an eye for value to the end consumer. I will not buy and sell any imported glass pipes, but I will not over pay for inferior American made work either. My hard work has paid off throughout the years as I look at some of the longest tenured glass blowers that I buy from with pride and admiration.
It wasn’t the first time I had a glass blower try to bully me into buying glass. Some glass blowers coming up think it is their right to have their glass in my store. I jumped off the entrepreneurial cliff many years ago, and my business will succeed or fail based on my decisions alone. I will not compromise my ideals, nor sacrifice my freedom. After meeting my “local glass blower,” I continued on my mission a little hurt and a bit steamed at the poor encounter. That’s when I ran into PB (Torcher Glass). This guy is probably the most talented glass blower that I buy from. I have bought from him for over 13 years. He is a wonderful person that pours his heart and soul into his work. He believes, like I do, that his pieces deserve to be owned by people that can’t afford to over pay for glass. Each year, he travels with several pieces (sculptures really) that I would value at over $20k. They aren’t for sale! Those are his babies, and I believe they are his middle finger to the snobbery and pretentiousness that sometimes flashes in our industry. Next I visited with Martin, owner of M&M Tech. He runs his business with his father and a super cool cat named Lev. I can’t count the years that I have had a relationship with Martin (3-4-5, not sure), but I have always loved working with him. A proud American immigrant, Martin has a style with words that allows truth, meaning, and humility to flow naturally. During my visit I briefly took over the sales counter, and explained to his potential Canadian customer why his glass was such a tremendous value. The consistency, thickness, and functional design is second to none for the end value that is presented to the consumer. The three of them laughed while I took over the sales, and I think I earned his donations to Smokin Js free charity raffles:) Soon after I ran into Charlie with Omakase and Greg with Synthesis. They used to work together in a hippie-like glass blowing co-op, but the recent legalization of marijuana in Oregon forced them out of their glass blowing studio for the sake of a cannabis growing operation. They both landed on their feet in separate places. I was thankful to see and hear that they could continue earning a living at their craft. The universe has blessed me with these great people who reside in Eugene, Los Angeles, and Portland. They may not be my physical neighbors, but we are certainly riding this space ship together.
My business is about forming strong relationships with quality people that believe in the same ideals that I do within the glass industry. I will keep fighting off the bullies and working hard to bring you guys the best of the best. Not the best quality glass at any price, but the very best glass pipes from the very best people at the very best price. Thanks for reading and thanks for caring.