By COREY NOLES
Just two years ago, vape shops were a new thing to Maine.
Like all trends, vaping has taken a strange path around the nation. So when Graham Vinson and his wife, then girlfriend, Stephanie, moved to Maine in 2011, they were surprised to see that vape shops simply didn’t exist.
Owners of Empire Vape Shop, with locations in Waterville, Bangor and Augusta, Maine, the Vinson’s first discovered vapor in 2009 while living in North Carolina.
“I had just lost my grandfather to complications with COPD, and I could already feel how smoking was affecting me,” Graham said, adding that it was around that time when Stephanie brought home a vape for him to try. “It was disgusting, but it worked.”
As an electronics and gadget enthusiast, Graham said he was excited about the idea of an electronic cigarette. In a matter, of weeks, he went to work at a local vape shop.
When the couple moved to Maine, they did all of their shop- ping online — so e-liquid orders were always a gamble.
“You’d buy seven flavors and pray three were good,” he said.
When vape shops began to sprout in Maine, Vinson went back to work at what he enjoyed. He worked for two different shops before deciding in late 2015 to open a shop of his own.
In December 2015, the couple opened their first location in Waterville, Maine. They wanted something different. A vape shop that felt high-end and would be appealing to anyone — not a glorified head shop.
Dustin Waltz, of Waltz Enterprises, helped design and give the stores their aesthetic appeal. They wanted the stores to have a legitimate “Maine-feel,” so the aesthetics include ample use of hardwood and large leather couches.
The business took off quickly. By April, they were ready to open another location, this time in Bangor. With business continuing to grow in what is still a relatively new market, a third location opened December 1 in Augusta.
“We’re not slowing down,” Graham said. “We’re always looking for new markets to expand into.”
As the landscape has changed this year, with the FDA regulations shifting from threat to reality, Vinson decided to step up his game and get involved with advocacy at the local, state and national levels.
“We’re changing lives in this industry every day around the world,” Vinson said. “We can’t just let them take that away.”
For more information on Empire Vape Shop, visit http://www.empirevapeshop.com.