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AROUND TOWN: Stores enter e-cig biz

A store selling electronic cigarettes opened in Grand Forks last week, as a federal agency works on regulating the product and a debate over its safety swirls.

But a co-owner of Vapor Stars, which is located in the same building as University Laundromat at 816 University Avenue, said he sees the business as providing a path toward quitting a more dangerous product: traditional cigarettes.

“We have a lot of friends of family who are into cigarettes or chewing tobacco,” said Zac Bernier, who co-owns the shop with his older brother Derick. “Compared to cigarettes or compared to chewing tobacco, it’s a big difference.”

“There’s a lot of debate on how healthy they are, but it’s definitely a better alternative,” Bernier, 24, added.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, aren’t currently regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and public health officials like Haley Thorson of the Grand Forks Public Health Department say that it’s too early to say how safe they may or may not be.  A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said the number of e-cig-related calls to poison control call centers is on the rise.

“Until we know for sure that they are a safer alternative, we can’t say that they are,” she said, adding that e-cig use among young people has grown. North Dakota prohibits e-cig use in the same public places that the law bans traditional cigarettes.

Still, Bernier said e-cigs are safe when used properly and don’t contain tobacco or the tar that sticks to smokers’ lungs. Instead, it releases nicotine in an odorless vapor form.

Bernier said there’s enough interest in e-cigs to provide plenty of business between Vapor Stars and SnG Vapor, the other store in town that sells the devices. He added that while the prospect of federal regulations concerns him — especially as a small business — he’s adamant that e-cigs are a safe way to quit smoking.

“It is something that’s catching on and that’s for a reason,” Bernier said. “People are happy to quit cigarettes.”

Old made new

The owner of a new East Grand Forks second-hand store said her new business selling old stuff is an outgrowth of longtime hobby.

“I find things that are maybe on their last leg and give it life again,” said Debra Beiswenger, who opened Vintage Corner in East Grand Forks on April 1. “It’s things I find at garage sales.”

“Repurposing” is what she calls fixing up, repairing, painting or decorating derelict furniture and home decor, things she can find on “junking” trips.

Her store is located next to an Arc thrift store, which opened in October, at 404 Second Ave. N.E., and Beiswenger said she has already been developing a customer base for her furniture rehab projects.

 “I’ve kind of done it all my life,” she said. “We’re keeping things out of the landfill.”

 Send business tips to Bjorke at and (701) 780-1117 or to Hageman at or (701) 780-1244.