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Rogue smoke shop inflames Brooklyn Heights residents

Signage breaks Landmarks Preservation rules

February 10, 2022 Mary Frost
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A cannabis-themed smoke shop is preparing to open soon at the site of a former laundry at 64 Henry St. in Brooklyn Heights, and neighbors are smoking mad.

The Exotic Smoke Shop’s signage features a grinning skull, and at night, neon-colored, flashing lights illuminate the storefront. Brooklyn Heights is famously landmarked, and the signage breaks NYC’s Landmarks Preservation Commission rules.

The Brooklyn Eagle has visited Exotic several times but did not find anyone on the premises. On Tuesday, the glass shelves of the shop were loaded with vaping devices, rolling papers, lighters, incense and what appeared to be jars of edibles, but the doors remained closed.

Residents say the problem is not just the eyesore created by the garish signage, but the fact that the shop is located near several schools, including P.S. 8 and Seedlings Preschool, and that the skull iconography, both outside the store and inside, is skewed towards youth.

“In my opinion. it’s not about whether cannabis is legal or not legal,” said resident Pia Scala-Zankel, a writer and local activist. “The issue is, I don’t feel that we as a community have any control over this. This business has been able to put up a sign that is not permitted. It’s completely incongruent, totally hideous, and does appeal to a certain demographic – younger people. This is right near schools, which is not a coincidence.”

On Tuesday, products appeared on the shelves of the controversial smoke shop. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Scala-Zankel expressed sympathy for the nearby businesses which are abiding by Landmark regulations, only to wind up next to a rogue operation.

“Look at Le French Tart [Deli] a few doors down. They’re packed every day, and it’s beautifully done and in keeping with the historic district. Look at Noodle Pudding and Bevacco — they’re working so hard. The landlords care, the proprietors care. On this place, they slapped up a sign and the landlord doesn’t care.”

Resident Ciro Scala told the Eagle that he contacted Councilmember Lincoln Restler, Community Board 2, and the two state representatives, “To clarify what the law will entail.”

The Exotic Smoke Shop puts on a multi-colored light show in its window at night. Photo courtesy of Pia Scala-Zankel

Even the landlord is not pleased

A large banner hanging on the front of the building — which also breaks Landmark regulations — lists the landlord’s phone number. When the Eagle called this number, the man who answered said, “I’m not the property manager, but they shouldn’t be putting up non-landmarked signs, the area’s landmarked.” Before he hung up, he said, “This is certainly something they shouldn’t be doing, if you want the landlord’s opinion. Thank you.”

According to Dun & Bradstreet, the phone number belongs to Joel Radmin, a Manhattan resident who is the principal of Extreme Realty LLC. A search of the ACRIS database also indicated that Radmin owns 64 Henry St.

BHA, officials and the city weigh in

“We’ve understandably received numerous calls from concerned neighbors and are working with the city and our Councilmember Lincoln Restler’s office on the issue,” Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Lara Birnback told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It’s regrettable, to put it mildly, that this business has chosen such an aggressive approach in terms of its branding — not to mention ignoring the existing Landmark regulations.”

Councilmember Lincoln Restler says his office is ‘all over’ the rogue smoke shop. Photo by Benjamin Kanter

“We’ve been all over it,” Councilmember Restler said. “Immediately upon hearing that a smoke shop would be coming to 64 Henry St., we got reports of potentially illegal signs. We reached out to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP). DCWP inspectors will be investigating a potential lack of commercial licensing.”

Restler said his office is concerned about additional smoke shops opening in the community. “We want to see fewer, not more, and want to make sure they follow the law to a ‘T.’ We are going to ensure the two relevant agencies, LPC and DCWP, are all over this new business to make sure nothing illegal or inappropriate is at this site.”

Parents worry the images outside and inside the shop will appeal to youngsters. The shop is close to several schools. Shown: A mural inside the Exotic Smoke Shop on Henry Street. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

LPC sends warning letters

On Wednesday, LPC spokesperson Zodet Negrón told the Eagle, “LPC received complaints on the signage installed at 64 Henry Street and sent the property owners two warning letters (one for the installation of the “For Rent” sign, and another for the “Exotic Smoke Shop” signage) on January 31. We are following up with the property owner to discuss strategies for addressing these violations.”

In general, LPC gives owners two chances to correct violations, once after a warning letter and a second after a summons.

A person familiar with the issue said LPC will be coordinating with the NYC Building’s Department regarding this case.

No tobacco license

If Exotic intends to sell tobacco or derivative vape products, it may be out of luck, a spokesperson from the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) told the Eagle. “Selling tobacco or vape products without a license is illegal, and this area is at its cap on licenses. We have visited the location for an inspection but it is not yet open. If we find they are selling tobacco or vape products without a license, we will issue violations and take other legal actions.”

Uncle Budd’s Weed Truck is one of the businesses that skirts the prohibition against selling weed by “gifting” it to patrons, who then make a donation. The city says it is cracking down on these illegal transactions, but this truck was seen doing business on Court Street near Trader Joe’s this week. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Worries the shop will ‘gift’ weed to customers

The state has decriminalized recreational marijuana for adults, but actual weed sales remain illegal until the state finishes its regulation process, estimated to take six months to a year.

In the meantime, there are numerous reports of vendors across New York City — such as Uncle Budd’s Weed Truck, which has been seen in DUMBO — taking advantage of the gray zone. Many operators believe they are covering themselves by “gifting” cannabis in exchange for “donations” from buyers.

Related article: NY clamps down on businesses offering marijuana as a ‘gift’

On Feb. 8, the New York State Office of Cannabis Management sent letters ordering businesses suspected of illegally selling or gifting cannabis to “cease and desist those operations or risk the opportunity to get a license in the legal market as well as substantial fines and possible criminal penalties.” OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander says the agency has identified and sent letters to more than two dozen alleged violators so far.

Heights resident Jimmy Zankel says he fears the regulation gap will encourage more rogue cannabis shops.

“Unfortunately, it seems that state licensing, business categorization and associated regulation and oversight is still unfolding, which has allowed for the rapid spread of aggressive and opportunistic vultures like Exotic Smoke Shop … to plant its flag a block or two from schoolchildren of all ages in a family neighborhood.”

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