HACKENSACK — A new smoke shop on Main Street is stocked with bongs, bowls and blunts, but it’s what’s on the outside that is really getting people fired up.
The name — Fu King Smoke Shop — is plastered outside on the awning of the red-lit, bamboo-lined store at 689 Main St. in the city’s quiet Fairmount section. The store has not opened yet, but it’s already attracting attention from parents and on social media. Residents say it’s a thinly veiled profanity and that it doesn’t belong in their neighborhood, a block away from an elementary school.
“It’s almost like it’s an insult to the intelligence of our community. Do you really think we don’t know what that is supposed to mean? That our children don’t know what that means?” said Michelle Tavares, president of the Parent Teacher Association at the nearby Fairmount School.
Some parents and residents want the city to take action and compel storeowner Robert Reichert to change the sign. Reichert said he received the city’s permission to put up the sign, although a zoning official disputed that and issued the owner a summons for failing to get the proper permit. Reichert also said the sign wasn’t inappropriate and that Fu is Chinese for wealth or lucky and part of a theme.
“There is a meaning behind it,” Reichert said. “It’s not just words thrown up on the canvas. If they’re offended by reading it, then it’s the way their mind is looking at it.”
Still, Reichert said he was willing to talk to residents and would be open to changing the design of the sign — which has a crown image between the Fu and King — but he is not willing to change the name, which he said was his company’s brand. He said he intends to fight the summons when it comes up for a court hearing.
Reichert also said he was marketing tobacco products and paraphernalia and not promoting the use of marijuana, which is illegal in New Jersey except for approved medicinal purposes. He noted that there were several other smoke shops and hookah stores in the city and that he, too, had the right to sell to smokers.
But Fu King is the kind of novelty smoke shop one might find in a quirky college town, Manhattan’s West Village and nowadays Colorado, which just legalized marijuana sales for recreational use, fueling a new aboveground pot industry there.
The Hackensack store is decorated with posters for the rapper Biggie Smalls, the ska-punk group Sublime, Chinese lanterns, a statue of the Buddha, a lava lamp and a mannequin in a “blunt master” costume that looks like, well, a big blunt — sort of a marijuana cigar. The store’s phone number is 201-420-YEAH. The exchange 420 happens to be a popular slang code for marijuana use.
On the shelves are boxes of tobacco, lighters and bongs of various colors and shapes — including one made from a Jack Daniels bottle and another in the shape of a toilet.
The store is a short walk from Fairleigh Dickinson University, but the city isn’t known as a college town. Reichert said he was appealing to tobacco smokers like himself.
But Ada Lil Torres, who lives in the area, worried that the store would make smoking look cool to kids. “The décor might be attractive to children,” said Torres, who has a 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. “It’s like putting a candy shop near a school.”
Reichert said he covered the window with bamboo so children weren’t exposed to the products.
“I’m not doing this to hurt people or upset people, and definitely not to hurt children,” he said. “I’m a parent. But we have the right to sell the product.”
The city’s zoning officer, Al Borrelli, said Reichert did not get a permit to install the sign. He issued a summons to Reichert on Dec. 20, and he is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.
Reichert says he brought three designs to the city’s Building Department for its review and even changed the sign with input from the department. The design currently in place at the store was the one that was approved, Reichert said, but he declined to say who approved the sign, adding that it would be aired out in court.
The Record visited the Building Department on Thursday to review the file, but the only paperwork found was the certificate of occupancy and a copy of the summons. Borrelli said they were the only documents he had on hand. Interim City Manager Anthony Rottino, who said he was reviewing the file after complaints, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Gordon Whiting, vice principal of the Fairmount School, said he was unaware of the sign dispute, but that name seemed inappropriate. Businesses have the right to make money, he said, but he was concerned about the proximity to students.
School board member Jason Nunnermacker said he had heard complaints and hoped the city would act. “The sign is offensive to me. The implication of the expletive word is clear,” he said.
If the judge determines Reichert did not get a proper permit, he will have to put in an application for the sign with the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Borrelli said. It’s unclear whether the zoning board would have grounds to reject the sign because of language, and the board attorney could not be reached for comment Friday.
The smoke shop will remain closed while the city and the owner resolve differences, Reichert said. The store already is generating publicity, with photos going around Facebook and sparking comments on Reddit, mainly because of the Fu King name.
“We had people lining up at the door to come in,” Reichert said, “maybe because it was controversial. But I don’t want to open and then have a name change or a sign change.”