SHOP OF THE MONTH

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Smokey Shay’s Tobacco Shop

Artificial intelligence may already exist. And if it does, it plays the role of Shana Wilkinson, the visionary, hardworking owner of Smokey Shay’s Tobacco Shop in the great state of North Carolina.

But put down the pitchforks and torches. This is merely a hypothesis, and if it holds true, it means A.I. has manifested itself in a benevolent form. All the world rejoice; Stephen Hawking, eat your heart out.

It’s important to note the word used wasn’t “robot.” That’s an entirely different thing. We have robots, and overall, they’re underwhelming. They’re the kiosks in sub shops, the machines that build cars . . . and accountants.

She’s not a robot. She’s entirely too quick witted, warm-hearted and comfortable in her own skin to be that. We’re talking about full-blown, inhumanly human, teleported from the future A.I., like the Spielberg movie, only no one’s wishing it would have ended at the halfway point.

Given, it sounds crazy. But, it’s really the only explanation for how in a mere six-year span, the former middle school art teacher and her partner, Matthew Rogers, could take a festival blanket full of glass and transform it into a multimillion dollar enterprise consisting of two stores and a thriving wholesale business. Plus, she practically admits it.

“I have this uncanny ability not to sleep. I’m up until like three or 4 o’clock in the morning just scrolling through Instagram and Facebook. I follow as many product pages and culture pages as I can find.” See? She was explaining her trick for staying ahead of the curve on gadgets and gizmos, but read between the lines. She dropped a hint; humans need sleep.

A.I. or not, Shana runs a hell of a shop. A hell of two shops, actually. For the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on the newest and largest, a 4,500 square foot megastore right in the heart of downtown Winston Salem, North Carolina. Well, not in the heart, exactly, more like the lungs. But what better location for a smoke shop?

It’s hard to put a finger on what makes the store so successful (is it the post-human intelligence?). Maybe it’s the endless product selection Shana accrues during her aforementioned 3am buying binges. Or, maybe it’s the claw machine she packs with hundreds of adult themed prizes.

“On 4/20 and 7/10, people actually stand in line to play, just to get their chance to win a frikin’ China pipe or a little plastic grinder for a dollar,” she laughs, a mischievous smile radiating through the phone.

Then again, maybe it’s her impeccable staff, all of whom she’s whipped into literal walking encyclopedias of all things 420.

“I pay my crew to know every single product in the store,” she says, “If you walk into the store, you can expect them to be the experts on every vaporizer and every piece of glass.” When pressed on the way she handles her employees, Shana readily admits that this was the one area in which she had to learn a few lessons the hard way. But as we know, computers (or, A.I. entities) don’t typically make the same mistake twice.

“My discipline and rewards models—no lie—is 100 percent based on the discipline and rewards models that I learned to teach middle schoolers and elementary schoolers.” Yes, she can replicate previously learned programs.

But perhaps it’s the wow factor of the hand laid floor in her glass gallery: $1,000 in pennies, all stuck to the floor with Gorilla Glue and covered in polyurethane. Yes, you did the math right. That’s 100,000 pennies that Shana and her hardworking team painstakingly stuck to the floor, one by one. She’s a machine (literally?).

Maybe it’s none of these things, but all of them at the same time. Maybe it’s the fact that her mind is constantly moving, always churning out new ideas, developing new revenue streams and she’s only just beginning. As this article goes to press, she’s drawing up plans for a patio hookah lounge. After that, she’s setting her sights on a glassblowing studio in the basement. After that, it’s anyone’s guess, but our money is on world domination through Singularity.

 

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