Smoke Shop Brings Vaping Culture to Atlantic

By Melissa Duchan

Jabr poses next to his merchandise in his custom-designed shirt which reads “Brooklyn” in Arabic script.

The Atlantic Avenue BID sat down with Jabr, owner of Atlantic Ave Smoke Shop, to talk about his background and business inspiration. Smoke Shop is located at 176 Atlantic Avenue and features a wide range of vaping and smoking products, as well as unique apparel.

Q: You have very deep roots on Atlantic Avenue, and some of your family members own businesses here. Can you tell us more about your background?

A: Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Yemenis flocked to America in search of a better life. The existing Arab presence in the area drew them to settle on Atlantic Avenue. Downtown Brooklyn became a hub for Yemeni immigrants because they felt as if they were back home. My grandfather, an immigrant himself, opened a restaurant called Yemen Cafe where he served traditional cuisine.

Q: So business savviness runs in the family. What inspired you to start Smoke Shop?

A: My brother worked in the smoking and vaping industries and I had a background in graphic design, specifically custom apparel. I decided to merge the two worlds and that’s how I started Smoke Shop, which also sells apparel.

Q: Can you tell us about the contemporary hookah and vaping culture?

A: Hookah is a cultural tradition originating in the Middle East and India. To smoke hookah, you place a mixture of tobacco and herbs in a water pipe and inhale the vapor. Hookah is a social activity meant to be shared between friends.

Hookah (also known as shisha) only became a topic of discussion in broader New York culture about ten years ago. Prior to that, hookah use was basically confined to the Arab community. I remember that, in Yemen, my grandfather would prepare his shisha in the diwan (living room). No one else was allowed in the room while he prepared the pipe.

Vaping is done through placing a cartridge of tobacco juice mixed with flavorings in an electronic cigarette. Vaping has transcended the limits of hookah because it’s portable. It’s become a sort of “shisha on the go.”

Q: Right now, we’re in the month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast during daylight hours. Do you have any fun plans for Eid Al-Fitr (the celebration that concludes Ramadan)?

A: Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam; it involves fasting from sunrise to sunset for an entire month. My mother always told me that fasting would help keep me grounded and humble. Eid al Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and lasts a few days. This year, I want to take my family to the top of the Freedom Tower (One World Observatory) because my dad used to work at Windows On the World and would go in earlier to see the sunrise. In fact, that income helped bring the rest of my family to America. When we go up to the Freedom Tower I want to ask my dad 2 questions: What was his American Dream, and was his dream fulfilled?

Q: We noticed that your store features a custom t-shirt line with the names of New York City’s boroughs and neighborhoods lettered in Arabic text. Can you tell us what inspired this line of apparel?

A: As a kid I would draw anything and everything around me. In the third grade I started selling my drawings to classmates. My classmate Luis still owes me 15 cents! In my late teens I learned how to silk screen and started putting my designs on clothing. Most of my designs represented a fusion of cultures. I wanted to represent my community and look cool doing it. Smoke Shop provided me with the space to express myself through my designs. I feel blessed to offer my art to the community.

And we’re glad your family and your business is here!

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