NEW ULM - The new tobacco shop Smokes Plus hopes to make a strong start in New Um and to distance itself from the controversy surrounding a similar, now-closed shop.
In addition to the traditional offerings of cigarette packs and cartons, the shop sells cigars, e-cigarettes and products for hand-rolling cigarettes. Premium brand cigars like Montecristo and Cohiba are available at the store, which is located in the strip mall near WalMart.
Smokes Plus co-owner Kamal Kehelaouinet, who runs a similar shop in Marshall, expanded to New Ulm to take advantage of an opening in regional tobacco sales. He sees New Ulm as an option instead of driving to Mankato. He plans to emphasize specialized smoking products.
Staff photo by Josh Moniz
Smokes Plus co-owner Kamal Kehelaouinet displays some cigars that are offered in his store, which is located in the strip mall near WalMart.
An unique issue facing Smokes Plus is the controversy about the store's prior occupant - Smokes 4 Less. Smokes Plus was required to agree not to sell herbal incense products and to keep its products that could be considered drug paraphernalia to just 25 percent of the store's retail space.
The scrutiny came after New Ulm City Councilor Les Schultz and others expressed concerns that Smokes 4 Less was selling herbal incense products for consumption as synthetic cannabinoids, which mimic the effects of marijuana. An undercover drug task officer purchased one of the packages, and sent it to the state for testing, but the results have not yet been returned.
Kehelaouinet has been previously charged for selling synthetic cannabinoids, but he entered an Alford Plea in the case. An Aflord plea allows the accused to admit there may be sufficient evidence for a conviction while maintaining innocence.
Kehelaouinet said he is dedicated to breaking with the problems of Smokes 4 Less and meeting City requirements. He has agreed to allow the New Ulm Police Department to occasionally conduct voluntary sweeps of the store to confirm compliance. He said he simply wants to be operate his store, and that he will not sell any illegal products on the premises.
NUPD Chief Myron Wieland said he has found the new store and its store owner to be very cooperative.
Schultz, who was also the only councilor to vote against issuing the cigarette license to Smokes Plus, said he is "surprised and pleased they appear to be in compliance with our agreement." However, he will be watching to make sure the store continues to honor the terms of its license.
New Tobacco tax
When asked how the new state tobacco tax will impact his business, Kehelaouinet said he has made plans to stock hand-rolled tobacco products and e-cigarettes to meet its impact on the market. He expects people to be pushed towards hand-rolled cigarettes because they are much cheaper than traditional cigarettes. He expects other smokers to switch to e-cigarettes, which are not taxed. Smokers may also use e-cigarettes as a stepping stone to quitting.
Either way, he anticipates the tax to create a drag on his business. However, he expects that offering a diversity of products will offset the issue.
The store is open from 10 a.m to 8 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m to 6 p.m on Saturdays and closed on Sundays.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)