LACONIA — Justin Spencer figures he must have hit a nerve with his Facebook post. The founder and leader of the Recycled Percussion band last week vented on social media about his frustration with the location of a vape shop just feet from Laconia High School. Since then, his post has had nearly 2,000 comments and more than 7,000 shares.
“What has personally bothered me is that everyday I drive by the Laconia High School I notice there is a vape shop essentially touching the high school property,” he posted. The post was more than just a gripe, however, it was also a challenge. “Right here, right now, I’m making a bold offer to the owner of the vape shop. I will give you $10,000 to move your vape shop anyplace outside a half mile from the high school," Spencer wrote. "I will write you a $10,000 check and hand-deliver it. Then I will take over your lease and turn that vape shop into a location that inspires students to come after school.”
He made the post on Oct. 10, and said his offer would expire in seven days. On Tuesday, Spencer said he had met with Tom Slawniak, owner of Raven Vape, though he wouldn’t say what they spoke about.
Slawniak, in a statement on Tuesday, said he is a Recycled Percussion fan and "the offer from Recycled Percussion may seem like a generous one, but is not feasible. This should have been a private discussion first," instead of being rolled out on social media.
Slawniak said he and his employees are "100% against" youth vaping and nicotine use. "No youth should be using, advertised to, or subjected to a product that is reserved only for adults," Slawniak said. "That’s why at our retail locations, we post all the mandated youth prevention signage and ask that patrons show their identification (proof of age)."
He said his shop has "never sold vapor products to anyone under the legal age requirement," and vaping products offer an effective alternative that has allowed over 13 million Americans to kick their cigarette habit.
"Vapor products offer a long awaited solution to a currently unresolved global epidemic," said Slawniak, who has operated out of the Union Avenue location for nearly two years.
Spencer, meanwhile, said he wants to find a way to bring what he called a “positive” experience to Laconia High School students.
“I’m going to move full-speed ahead with doing something with the high school, regardless of the vape shop’s decision,” Spencer said in an interview Tuesday. He said he was inspired by several young men who had reached out to him via social media with concerns about mental health and what Spencer saw as a lack of direction. “People need purpose, man. People need something to do.”
“I made a promise to this town,” Spencer said, about his previously stated rationale for opening the Chaos and Kindness store on Union Avenue in September. He said that he wanted to open the store, conceived to be the first of a worldwide brand, in Laconia because he wanted the business to be a benefit to a community that he said could use the help. “We built a store here that has been hugely successful. With the power that we have, what else is there to do? We might as well do some good.”
Spencer said he wants to partner with the high school in order to change the high school experience for students, especially those at risk of destructive behaviors.
“I want to come up with an idea that every school in the nation would be jealous of,” Spencer said. “We need to create something that is so (expletive) cool. School is not cool, dude. We have to buck that status quo, we have to make it cool.”
Spencer has already had an initial meeting with LHS principal Mike Fredericksen, who is receptive to the idea.
“He’s a good guy, he’s talking a lot about doing good things for the community," Fredericksen said. "He wants to do something really positive for kids. Anything that’s positive for kids, that’s a great thing.”
He added that he shares Spencer’s frustration with the location of the vape shop.
“When you’re a kid, and you’re coming to school, and you drive right past a vape shop, what message does that send?”
“I think I’m saying what a lot of people think every day – that there’s a vape shop in a high school parking lot,” Spencer said. As he also said in his original post, Spencer added that he doesn’t begrudge Slawniak’s effort to make a living by selling vape products, he just doesn’t think the location is appropriate.
“I have nothing against him, I have nothing against vaping, although I don’t vape. I think that space could be used for something better,” Spencer said.