Zane Hulwe in his Blythewood Road store. | Photos: Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – Since the word has gotten out about his Blythewood CDB/hookah and vape shop in the few months since it opened, Zane Hulwe says sales have taken off, mostly drive by repeat sales.

He says older customers come in for the CBD for joint and
muscle pain, to help them relax and sleep better. Younger customers come in to
purchase hookahs and tobacco

“We carry many types of CDB – gummies, powder and cartridges
and a wall full of flavors to choose from,” Hulwe said. “We have lots of
choices for our customers, whether they want to inhale it or drink it in tea,
we have it.”

Now Hulwe’s shop is undergoing renovations for a new hangout
spot that’s eagerly anticipated by his regular customers: a hookah lounge where
customers can smoke tobacco through a hookah, a traditional Middle Eastern
water pipe.

“I have furniture coming in from Turkey for the lounge,”
Hulwe said. “It will be here in about a month or so

Hulwe grew up in Texas, but in a multi-cultural family. His
father is a Texan and his mother is Moroccan. He headed east when he earned an
academic full ride to the University of South Carolina. He graduated last
spring with a double major in computer science and broadcast media.

For Hulwe, the final nudge to open the business was also
somewhat of an outgrowth of the pandemic: With his day job as a software
developer moved remote by Covid-19, he gained the schedule flexibility to
pursue his dream of opening a small business alongside his regular job.

“Currently we work from home, so I had the opportunity to go ahead and set everything up,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to do something like this, so I thought I might as well do it.”

In a trend that’s been catching on around the country, hookah lounges have become a social gathering spot for young people, and Blythewood is no different: Hulwe says most of his hookah customers are in their late teens and early 20s.

At 23, Hulwe is part of that demographic, though he says the
vape shop has also become popular among middle-aged people seeking to quit
smoking cigarettes.

With the next closest hookah lounge nearly half an hour away
in downtown Columbia, he says people who enjoy visiting this kind of establishment
are glad they’ll have an option closer to home.

“I have a lot of customers who come in and who say, ‘Is it
started? Did you do it?’” he says. “So, I have a lot of people who are
anticipating its opening and are excited about it.”

Hookah, he says, is a cultural tradition common in the
Middle East – and, since his father is Moroccan, for him there’s definitely a
cultural connection.

But Hulwe’s plan for his hookah lounge is not to present an
Arabian theme but to more resemble those that have become popular in American
cities, with a “simplistic but modern” upscale vibe.

In creating this, he says, he’s drawing inspiration from
businesses he’s visited from Charleston to Las Vegas. He expects the lounge –
which will take up two-thirds of his store – to be open within a few weeks.

The cost to smoke a hookah in the lounge, once it opens, is
around $20-$25.

There are also plans, he says, to add a smoothie/coffee bar
in the future, though that requires a longer permitting process, which he plans
to begin soon.

“It would be a place where, in the morning, you would have people come in and work on assignments or work on actual work, have a cup of coffee, grab a smoothie, and then toward midday is when you would have a different crowd, and people would be able to smoke hookah,” he says. “Then, on the weekends, there would be… either a singer or a DJ.”

The store carries a full line of flavored CDB.

Hulwe says his hope is that, going forward, working from
home will continue to be the norm – but, if he has to return to an office
environment, his thinks his business will be running well enough on its own by
that time that he won’t have to be nearby to oversee it.

Whatever happens going forward in the commuting vs
telecommuting debate as the pandemic fades, the shakeup in work styles brought
about by Covid-19 gave Hulwe the opening he needed to get things moving in a
positive direction.

“The whole concept of ‘work from home’… just gave me
complete flexibility in what I’m able to do,” he says. “So, I just got with a
couple people and happened to get the idea out there, and it quickly
transformed to a concept, and the concept became reality, and here we are.”

The shop, locate at 135 Blythewood Road, in the IGA shopping center, is open from 9 – 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday and from 11 – 9 p.m. on Sundays.  For more information about the shop’s products, stop by or call 254-690-0189.

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