Walking into Sovereign Vapors Loft on the Post Road is like walking into a Starbucks for smokers -- no, make that "vapers."
Comfortably and tastefully decorated, it's a place designed to help e-cigarette aficionados, who inhale -- or "vape"-- rather than smoke, feel at home in public.
There has been controversy about the long-range effects of the "tobacco-less" method of inhaling nicotine, and on Wednesday the state's General Assembly passed a bill prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Introduced by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, it passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously.
But Anthony Holdampf and Marcos Garcia, the owners of the new Sovereign Vapors establishment, say they never intended to sell their products to anyone under 18 anyway. They said that 100 percent of their customers so far have been former or current tobacco smokers, and the lounge owners view their market as limited to smokers only, Holdampf said.
The store's owners are not interested in getting nonsmokers to start, but to help tobacco smokers transfer to "vaping," which he and his business partner believe is healthier.
"This is a much cleaner delivery system for people who smoke," he said. "It's really for the smoker who wants a cleaner alternative."
On Tuesday, the newly opened loft had several visitors, including some college students working on their laptops as they inhaled flavored liquid from nicotine-delivery devices. There were also several customers who had sidled up to the tasting bar, where Holdampf and Garcia were offering samples of the many flavors of e-liquids they sell and demonstrating their large selection of vaping hardware.
Among the stock of e-liquids is Lucerna, described in the Sovereign Vapors menu as "capturing characteristics of dark spirits is our spiced rum mixed with a juicy, clingstone white peach," and Fifth Rank, which is a " lively fusion that's reminiscent of the lost vintage drink known as the Lime Rickey."
The menu makes the offering sound similar to a micro brewery or a wine-tasting bar, except there's no alcohol.
"I was a smoker since high school," said Avery Salveson, of Fairfield, 20, sitting on a leather couch enjoying his "vape." "This is a much, much healthier alternative," he said.
Two other young men, Josh Gelman and Bryn Hagley, both 21, and both students at the University of Bridgeport, started smoking e-cigarettes as a way to give up smoking tobacco in hookahs, or water pipes, they said.
They appreciate that e-cigarettes do not leave a smoky smell in their homes or on their clothes anymore, and Gelman said he can breathe better now when he is physically active. For Hagley, it is also the ability to smoke without a flame that he appreciates after he nearly set his wooden floor on fire once with a hookah pipe, he said.
The e-liquids sold at Sovereign Vapors are a combination of propylene glycol -- the same chemical that's used in asthma inhalers -- according to Holdampf, and vegetable glycerin. The customer chooses an amount of nicotine ranging from 0 to 18 mg when they buy an e-liquid. A tobacco cigarette typically has 24 ml of nicotine, according to Holdampf.Read Full Article
The idea is catching on, he said, and even though Sovereign Vapors has been open only a week, customers have already come in from as far away as New York City and Milford. The vaping hardware and e-liquids they sell are high-end, according to Garcia, who added that the e-liquids are all made in labs, not in someone's back room.
The business sells a beginner kit complete with the nicotine delivery device, charger and receptacle for the e-liquid for $25. The more advanced delivery systems can go as high as $375. The liquids range from $8 to $28.
Garcia smoked cigarettes for 20 years before switching to e-cigarettes. He loves the flavor profiles of the vapors and the complexity of the experience, he said. "I never wanted to smoke again," he said.
Before opening the Fairfield lounge, he toured Europe, where vaping is popular, and then California, where he said e-cigarettes and shops that sell them are prevalent. Garcia, who calls himself "the enthusiast," and Holdampf -- who said he is the business-oriented partner -- then got together to open Sovereign Vapors. They chose a large loft-like space on the second floor of a Post Road building that previously housed Devore's Bakery on the first floor, and now houses a juice bar and dental office.
With a grand opening planned Saturday, May 10, the partners say they are ready to welcome more and more customers as weeks go on.
"There are 48 million (tobacco) smokers in the U.S.," Garcia said. "They see this as the way out for them."
Sovereign Vapors, 1981 Post Road, is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The May 10 grand opening is set for 10 a.m. to midnight, with special events all day and music from 8 p.m. to midnight.
For more information, visit http://bit.ly/1isPzL6 or call 203-955-1430.