Quitting smoking leads to huge headache for local smoke shop owner

Jen and Ken Fife pose in front of the vape product section of their store in Winter Park. K&J Smoke Shop reopened for business in early April after a six-month hiatus.
Nate Lee / Sky-Hi News

Quitting smoking for local smoke shop owner Ken Fife was harder than he expected, but not just because of the pangs from nicotine withdraw ­— it also temporarily closed down his business.

The irony wasn’t lost on Fife, who, with his wife, Jen, owns K&J Smoke Shop’s two Grand County locations, in Granby and Winter Park. He wanted to make a healthy change for himself and running and owning a business centered about smoking wasn’t going to work. So he stopped selling cigarettes, which unexpectedly led to great turmoil for the business.

In October, the smoke shop, which sells glass smoking pieces, nicotine vaping products, cigars and pipe tobacco, was forced to close its doors and go on hiatus after a series of unique events and misconceptions led to an end in the business’s credit card and banking services.

According to Fife, when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made comments last fall about the enforcement of federal marijuana laws — which consider marijuana an illegal substance — businesses that provide financial services such as credit card processing grew weary.

While K&J does not sell marijuana in any form, the decision to stop selling cigarettes meant the business’s credit card processing vendor viewed them as a business purely selling paraphernalia. The store’s official business name, which includes the term “smoke shop,” added another layer of confusion, Fife said.

After its credit card vendor pulled out, the business shifted to cash-only sales, but the resulting large volumes of cash being deposited with the local bank raised red flags at the bank’s central office outside of Colorado. Those supposed red flags led the banking institution to close K&J’s account.

“I tried to explain,” Fife said. “No one at the local bank knew. The home office said they have a right to refuse service, they weren’t going to debate us on the issue. They simply said, ‘We don’t want you anymore.’ There was nothing I could do.”

In response, Fife decided to expand the nicotine vaping products already offered at K&J, which would allow the business to obtain credit card processing services once again if sales from such products constituted a large enough portion of the overall business, about 70 percent.

And so, over the past few months, K&J has expanded its vaping selection from one brand to six and a vast array of flavors.

“The credit card companies looked into us and accepted us,” Fife said. “We expanded our vape products 400 percent.”

The K&J shops reopened April 6 and new credit card machines and ATMs were up and running as of Tuesday.

While it led to a headache for Fife and his customers, Fife still no longer smokes cigarettes.

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