BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- When they were opening their business in Bridgeport, Charlie Ronemus and Zac Weiner wanted to “put a little cleaner image out there for smoke shops.”
“We wanted to shed some light on this industry, literally,” Ronemus said. “We wanted to be exposed.”
Ronemus and Weiner are 50/50 owners of Bridgeport’s newest head shop, Stoked. But their relationship began long before the two were involved in the tobacco pipe industry.
The Westport natives went to high school together, although Ronemus admits the two weren’t friends at Staples High.
“I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when we met each other again after high school,” said Ronemus, “But we realized we were both similarly business-minded when we worked together at Bodega,” a restaurant in Fairfield.
After high school, Ronemus attended Montana State University, where he majored in Spanish. Working in the restaurant industry throughout college, and after he and Weiner met, the business partners didn’t decide to open Stoked until an unfortunate Sunday morning accident.
“I was playing a pickup football game and I tore my Achilles tendon,” Ronemus said.
After going through surgeries and a bit of recovery, Ronemus was left at home, unable to work with just one functioning ankle. It was at this time, he said, that he penned the business plan for the “progressive smoke shop.”
Located at 3398 Fairfield Ave., Stoked looks to challenge all the stereotypes associated with businesses of the sort. With ceiling-to-floor windows and a well-lit studio, Ronemus and Weiner’s shop is anything but the usual.
“Every [smokeshop] we saw was dark and dingy,” Ronemus said. “Coming from the restaurant industry we saw an opportunity. We want customers to feel comfortable, to feel invited and to ask questions.”
But Ronemus said openness and customer service aren’t the only ways their business differs from the rest.
All products sold at Stoked are 100 percent American-made, and they look to support local artists. Everything down to the skin and bones of the storefront, including the windows and shelves, were either constructed or installed by local companies, according to Ronemus.
And unlike their competitors, Stoked is not in the business of selling hookahs, incense, tapestries, cigarettes or rolled cigars.
“We do have loose tobacco, but that’s about it,” he said. “I know you usually come out of a smoke shop smelling a certain way and you don’t need that.”
Stoked was designed in hopes of highlighting the mature aspects of the smoke shop industry, Ronemus said. He and Weiner invite customers to try any of their pipes during their normally advertised business hours from “11ish to 9ish,” seven days a week.
“After all, at the end of the day,” Ronemus said, “you’ll be the one kissing the pipe, not me.”
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