We Own 420.
Ashes Smoke Shop: The ‘Hotel
“I want all of my employees to wake up every morning feeling like they cannot wait to get to work . . . There’s not much downtime here, but when there is, when everything is finished, we go out front, sit out on the haybales for an hour and play guitars and drink beer . . . Everybody’s happy to be here. Everyone is excited to get to work.”
I can literally hear the high fives in the background as the words are spoken. I’m on speaker with JC and Alissa, owners of Ashes Smoke Shop in Denton Texas. Four out of their six employees are in the room with them—and they’re all chiming in.
But every boss thinks he or she is the best thing to happen to the workforce since weekends were invented. I need the real scoop. Luckily, I know what to do. After all, I’m a journalist, dammit.
“Guys, I know you’re back there agreeing, but I need to verify you’re not just going along with it to keep your job. Blink twice if you need to be rescued. I won’t tell.”
As it turns out, that method doesn’t translate over the phone. I should have thought that one through.
Luckily, they get my dry humor and gladly indulge me. Lara pipes up first.
“Let’s put it this way,” she offers, “I’m a tattoo artist. I left this place when my apprenticeship was done, but I came back part time just so I could hang out with these people.”
“They make it hard to leave, for sure,” Taylor adds, touches of a lingering chuckle still framing her voice.
“Yeah,” Lara responds, “This place is like Hotel California.”
I really didn’t need the confirmation. The fact that they love their jobs was obvious from the minute I picked up the phone. But now, I’m starting to feel jealous.
“So . . . could I get an application?” I ask, somewhat facetiously. Alissa jumps in to respond.
“Eh . . . get in line.” Everyone laughs. This is how the conversation goes for the entire hour. Everyone participates eagerly and everyone’s input is equally valued. Remember that saying, “Democracy dies in darkness?” Well, apparently it thrives in the interior lighting of a head shop, at least judging by what’s going on here at Ashes.
This atmosphere of family and acceptance also extends to their clientele, and really, to the entire Denton community. It’s something on which they pride themselves, and it directs every decision. They’ve gone to great lengths to eliminate the atmosphere of intimidation and smugness that’s too often associated with the genre. They welcome their customers warmly and arm themselves with extensive knowledge to ensure that every purchase decision is made with confidence. Instead of running traditional print and radio ads, they print thousands of t-shirts and give them all away, pretty much to every customer who walks in. Recently, they even began offering free tire covers bearing their logo. Truth be told, it’s a pretty sick looking design. If only my Subaru Forester had a mounted tire.
As great as these gifts of appreciation are, though, their biggest gift to the community is their annual 420 festival, a massive production that features a music stage, a grill, plenty of local vendors, and TONS of product giveaways, provided courtesy of their vendors. The best part: it’s a free event. For everyone.
“We don’t charge anything,” JC confirms. “Not for food, not even for the vendor space. Come set up a booth, have fun, make your money. We don’t want any of it. We just want you to be here.” They definitely get what they want.
“Last year,” Taylor recounts, “We were competing with events at a couple other shops. By the end of the day, they all shut down and ended up here.”
The more conventional among us may cringe at the idea of giving so much away on the day a head shop is supposed to make its money, but the formula’s working for them. Five years ago, it was just JC and Alissa working 16-hour days and sleeping in the back office. Now, thanks in no small part to their efforts on the makeshift holiday, they have become Denton’s premiere smoke shop destination—and their brand has become nearly synonymous with the day.
“We OWN 420,” JC blurts out excitedly. He then backs down and qualifies the statement. “I mean, not to be arrogant, but it’s literally true. We own our building, and it’s located at 420 South Carroll Street.”