How Is Legalization Affecting Old-School Head Shops?

We talked to industry veterans to find out.

It's hard to remember now, but back in 2014, the best place for anyone in Portland to pick up a good piece of smokable glass was the old neighborhood head shop.

Not so long ago, the city was full of weed-centric stores that didn't actually sell weed—instead content to be paraphernalia shops that doubled as community centers for the cannabis-inclined.

Related: Now That Weed Is Legal, Can We Finally Start Calling A Bong, A Bong?

In the wake of legalization, most dispensaries now carry a range of high-end glass. So, we wondered, how are Portland's oldest head shops doing? Are they struggling because of competition, or thriving with new customers? A little of both, it turns out.

For North Lombard Street's Pype's Palace, which opened in 1976, legalization has been a boon, with '70s-vintage stoners feeling liberated to return to cannabis.

"It's been like an old-school reunion," says co-owner Patty Collins. "When it became legal, they came out of the woodwork. We're fixing their old bongs they pulled out of the attic."

Related: The Story Behind Portland's Oldest Head Shop

In the past year, Pype's has filled its glass showcases with concentrate pens, more oil rigs and especially vapes. "That's probably our hottest-selling new product," Collins says. "Some of the old-timers can't smoke like they used to, so they're going for the dry vaporizers because it's easier on the lungs."

Things have been different at Third Eye Shoppe on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard.

"We're all competing with the internet and the convenience of pointing and clicking, and Chinese glass," says owner Mark Herer, son of late cannabis legend Jack Herer, who co-founded Third Eye in 1987. "People will come in the shop and ask, 'Is that the best price you have to offer?' They're willing to squabble and haggle over pricing. Do you go into Fred Meyer and ask, 'Is this the best price on bread or a gallon of milk?'"

Related: Testing the Throwback Super-Strains of the '70s

Third Eye, which sells all-local glass, feels it's losing customers to dispensaries. "There are more dispensaries than liquor stores in the state of Oregon," Herer says. "I mean, it's a great day—my father would be proud. But at the same time, it's killing the competition."

Herer says he might have to change some of his business practices, especially when it comes to employee benefits. "I've always paid their medical, dental and vision benefits; not a penny comes out of their pocket," he says. "I'm at a point where I'm forced to decide whether to keep with that practice. It's a very sad day in the universe for me."

Related: Celebrate Marijuana Legalization at Portland's Classic Head Shops

At Silver Spoon Smoke Shop on Southwest Barbur Boulevard, the strategy for dealing with new competition in glass sales is diversification. This year, the family-run head shop installed a disc-golf display, clearing an entire section of the store to make room for a colorful arrangement of discs.

"There was nowhere on this side of town with a big selection [of discs]," says owner Ben McEwan. "People were driving all the way downtown from this side of town. We liked it, so we put it in."

McEwan has seen a noticeable uptick in baby boomers coming through the store since weed became legal.

"The older generation are the new customers," he says. "I get a lot more older people buying their first bongs."