Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes, in Arlington County, it constitutes an illegal outdoor sign.
A new store in Crystal City found that out the hard way recently when a new mural got a thumbs down from county zoning officials.
Smokey Shope III opened three months ago at 554 23rd Street S. in Crystal City. The store is a head shop — it sells paraphernalia that’s ostensibly intended for the smoking of tobacco. Merchandise includes bowls, water pipes, hookahs, cigars, cigarettes, shisha, gifts and a type of Afghan jewelry known as lapis lazuli. One employee described the store as “a place where people can unite… and have positive energy.”
About two weeks ago, Smokey Shope’s manager said, the store paid $1,000 to a traveling band of artists to paint a mural on the front of the store. Salim Amin, the manager, said the intent was to create a work of art that would beautify the block. The finished product was a man, smoking a cigar, with colorful and decorative smoke emanating from the cigar.
Just two days after the mural was complete, however, zoning officials stopped by with some instructions: the cigar had to go up in smoke, so to speak, as it’s a product being sold by the business and thus an illegal sign according to the county’s zoning ordinance. The situation mirrored that of Wag More Dogs, an Arlington dog grooming and boarding business that has (unsuccessfully) fought in federal court to have its mural of playful pups deemed art instead of advertising.
“We have not received complaints, but we have investigated the mural,” Norma Cozart, Arlington County’s Zoning Administrator, told ARLnow.com. “We have spoken to the shop owner and the cigar must go; then the mural can stay. Without the cigar, it is not a sign and staying or leaving is up to the landlord.”
The shop, which is directly across from Freddie’s Beach Bar and other 23rd Street restaurants, says other merchants on the block have signed on to a statement of support for the mural. But Amin says they’re nonetheless exploring ways to remove or paint over the cigar without destroying the mural. One idea is to repaint it into some sort of hot, steaming food — perhaps a falafel.
A final decision will likely have to wait until the store’s owner, Amin “Smokey” Atta, returns from a vacation in Jamaica next week. In the meantime, the store is continuing to market its wares to the local community, a marketing effort that has included placing colorful handout flyers on car windshields throughout the Crystal City area.
Smokey Shope has two other locations, in Fairfax and Manassas, and is hoping to open a third in D.C. in the near future.