Exceptional Retailer 67: Higher Elevation



A savvy entrepreneur has quickly opened two smoke shops in Northern California. As he continues to build his empire, his found the perfect intersection of his love for glass and music.

Sometimes in business you just know the right opportunity when you see it. Sometimes everything lines up the right away, the right person intersects with the right moment, and magic happens.

That’s the story of Higher Elevation Smoke Shop, which is now opening its second location in Northern California near Lake Tahoe and the Nevada border. It all happened pretty quickly, but sometimes good things happen fast.

Just ask ChaZz, the shop’s co-owner and mastermind. He opened his first location in Portola, Calif. in December 2016, then another in Quincy, Calif., just last month. The second shop had its big grand opening at the end of April.

He’s a chill guy who has big ambitions and a big Rolodex of glass blowers and industry types who have helped him carve a successful niche in an area that was itching for a smoke shop.

“Two stores,” he says. “That’s pretty good for a year and a half, ya know?”

The original ambition wasn’t to open to open a smoke shop, but ChaZz knew the industry well. He worked in a glass shop in Chico for 15 years, spending much of that time as a manager. Then he took a job with ashtray company Debowler that made him move out of Chico and up to Reno.

The new job was great, but it helped him sense the opportunity in front of him: Plumas County, which is where both of his shops are located, didn’t have any smoke shops. He had the experience, the know-how and the connections, obviously. So he acted quick and opened Higher Elevation. He was able to double-up and run his shop while also keeping Debowler chugging along.

“I’m just trying to express love to the world,” ChaZz says. “That’s all I’m trying to do.”

You might assume that since there were no smoke shops in Plumas County that people — like, you know, authority figures — might be skeptical of Higher Elevation, but that wasn’t the case at all.

“I was completely welcomed into the community,” he says.

ChaZz opened the shop with a friend of his, Steven Cherms, who acted as an investor and silent partner. ChaZz runs the show, now with a staff of six employees between his two shops.

“Everybody who comes in — 100 percent of people across the board — they say, we’ve been waiting for this,” ChaZz says. “They were stocked. In Quincy, they say ‘It’s about time.’ We hear that every day.”

In the beginning, he worked the shop by himself, thinking he wanted to be the face of the store in case someone had an issue with something. As business picked up, he brought on one part-time employee. Soon, he told that employee: Quit your job, you’re working for me full time.

Once he saw one shop was successful and sustainable, ChaZz decided to open a second shop — because that’s how you do things when you’re trying to build an empire.

“I’m thinking about opening one per year,” he says.

What makes the whole thing especially worthwhile is the vibe.

“People leave the store so freakin’ stoked,” he says. “That’s just a blessing. I sell things that make people happy when they leave.”

Another part that he loves: He’s found the perfect intersection of two of his loves. Not only his Higher Elevation his shop, it’s also his band. He’s a part of J Ras & The Higher Elevation, which is another years-in-the-making dream come true.

ChaZz had long been an admirer of J Ras, a reggae and hip-hop based in the Sacramento-area. Some fans might know him for his extra-long dreadlocks — they measure about six feet.

At the end of last year, ChaZz was asked to be in the band, and both the music styles and the brands merged.

“It’s crossover marketing to the max,” he says. “Things are going good.”

The big plans aren’t stopping there. There’s the shop and the band and next, he’s thinking about something else.

“I want to get into throwing music festivals,” ChaZz says.

If it goes anything like his foray into opening smoke shops, you’d better watch out.



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