Exceptional Retailer 59: Cali Culture



Industry vet Josh Joseph has finally realized his dream, opening Cali Culture, a glass and art shop in Northeast Ohio. He quit his job five years and sunk everything into making his dream come true.

This is what it looks like to chase a dream. This is what it looks like to set a goal, dedicate yourself to meeting it and never giving up. This is what it looks like when you wake up everyday knowing that you’re doing exactly what you want.

“I really love what I do,” says Josh Joseph, the owner of Cali Culture in Alliance, Ohio, in a way where you can actually hear the smile coming off his face. “I live my dream.”

Josh’s story is a familiar one in many ways — he was a driven young guy who took a big risk, worked hard and eventually got the break he was looking for. In other ways, Josh’s story is uniquely his own.

He opened his shop earlier this year with a sharp focus on supporting local artists and local makers. It’s part smoke shop, part art gallery, part local market for creatives.

“I really don’t care if I don’t make money,” Josh says. “I want a place that my friends can come to sell their artwork and that locals can come to sell their artwork. In my city, that doesn’t exist.”

To fully understand how he got here, we have to back in time a bit. The year was 2012. Josh had a job selling DirecTV, doing a typical 9-to-5 job. But that was the last thing he wanted to be doing. He wanted something more creative, more freeing for his soul.

“I knew I had a lot inside of me,” Josh says. “I was ready to do something on my own. So I took my final paycheck and tax return, every cent just went to glass artists. I had all this glass in a suitcase.”

Soon, he was selling it in more of a pop-up style. He thought this would lead to his dream of opening his own smoke shop, but a few things popped up first. As Josh started to meet people in the industry, he learned that had help to offer beyond just opening a smoke shop.

He met Bubba from Bubba’s Death Star Nation, the big smoke shop in Northeast Ohio and soon Josh was helping Bubba promote his grand opening. He met  Richard Marumoto, whom took Josh under their ring and hired him to do some promo work for them. He even began to work for us here at ERB Magazine, helping set up and work at trade shows.

No matter where he want, Josh had two things he always did: He worked extremely hard and he soaked up everything he could. He made friends with owners and CEOs to learn as much as he could about the industry. He went to trade shows and made all the connections he could.

“I really owe a lot of my success to the people who showed me the ropes,” Josh says.

All the while, Josh had two other hustles: He would sell his products at local marketplaces and the local camp ground, Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, which attracted a hippie crowd. He also worked in another business he started, Joshua The Help, where he’d help senior citizens with things like doing yard work, cooking dinner or taking out their trash.

“I don’t ever plan on stopping that,” Josh says. “I love it as much as I love having a shop and supporting artists.”

Back home in Northeast Ohio, after all his travels around the country to become a part of the smoke-shop industry, Josh heard about a retail spot that he could take over. He’s thankful to a local juggler named Ted the Juggler and Sherry, the owner of Troll Hole and a landlord who helped him get into his current building.

“As soon as I heard about it,” Josh says. “I was like, ‘it’s mine.’ The universe aligned, I guess. I asked and the universe listened.”

So he opened Cali Culture. It took longer than the five-year goal he set for himself, but he got the doors open, which is something not every dreamer achieves. The name came from his travels.

“It’s about all the adventures I went on,” Josh says. “I really love the California vibe. I wanted to bring that vibe back to this depressed area where I live. I think the name was just the start.”

It’s not a typical smoke shop, though.

“My smoke shop really isn’t a smoke shop,” Josh says. “There’s no tobacco license. It’s more of a glass and art gallery. I sell handmade one-of-one pipes, paintings, jewelry, knives. I try to focus locally as much as possible. I don’t have vape juice or wraps. I focus literally on artists. My money is given to the artists around me. I really try to support the people around me.”

That includes glass artists such as Brad Ross, Adam Simms, Matt Burton, Brian and Rebecca Peterson of Wicked Water Works, Jonathan Casto and Jillian Jiggz.

Beyond that, Cali Culture is special because he has fun ideas to get people through the doors. He does the typical smoke-shop parties, like live glass blowing and bands. But he had a pancake breakfast one day. He did a tie-dye cupcake jamboree.

“I don’t really do formal marketing,” Josh says. “I just do parties.”

For a guy who quit his job and spent the next five years chasing his dream, that’s not a bad way to live. And this adventure, it’s been everything Josh could have hoped for.

“That’s really what it’s all about,” he says.

And he’s not wrong.

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