JEFFERSON-Mason Harris isn’t just blowing smoke, or vapor that is, when he says he will overcome the effects of a disastrous Jan. 17 landslide that nearly destroyed his livelihood.
Harris is now one step closer to resuming operations at the Joy of Vaping and True Image Ink in Jefferson.
Recently, county officials gave Harris and other owners in the affected outlet mall the go-ahead to begin moving merchandise and equipment back into the darkened storeroom, but this doesn’t mean it’s business as usual for the veteran salesman.
“We can’t operate because we don’t have power and the public is still not allowed in,” Harris said when reached by phone Thursday morning.
The load of earth that descended upon the mall five weeks prior forced him and several other businesses from the premises. The dirt and debris ripped out electrical wiring and a meter that rendered his operation virtually useless. Harris was able to replace the meter pole, but the makeshift road carved by trackhoes removing dirt from the area has robbed Blue Ridge Electric ample elbow room needed to get behind the building to make necessary repairs. An engineer also needs to sign off on the work completed before he’s allowed to move back in, Harris said.
Village Florist, Renegade Graphics, Joy of Vaping, Quality Hair Care and When Pigs Fly BBQ & Wings were all affected by the mudslide that sent tree limbs, rocks and mud into the back of the buildings more than five weeks ago.
Since being forced from the store, which is located across the way in from Tractor Supply in an outlet mall style setting, Harris has continued to sling vape juice and rigs from a car-haul trailer that was lent to him by a close friend.
“About a week after the landslide, Keith Hart, a customer and a friend, came up to see me as I was starting to freeze in the box truck,” Harris recalled. “He was asking if I was going to be there the next day. He came back that Saturday with a 24-foot car hauler and brought it up with a generator, propane tanks and a heater. He said, ‘Here you go. I need it back in April and asked nothing more. That to me was phenomenal. He is even going back and forth from Wilkes to fill up our propane tanks… He’s just an awesome dude. That shows me there is still humility and respect left in this world. That shows there are still real humans left in the world.”
Due to a drop in sales from almost a complete lack of visibility in the local business community, Harris sent all but one employee home. That lone employee has accepted vape juice in lieu of a paycheck until Harris can completely get back on his feet.
Part of the reason his sales have suffered is due to misunderstanding with his customer base.
“The biggest problem is people don’t know I’m open,” he said. “If you don’t have Facebook, you don’t know I’m here. Other than that they have no idea I’m open. That’s the only way I got to put out the word. A lot of my customers don’t do social media. I have customers in that are 60, 70 and 80 years old. They are not into Facebook or social media. A friend of mine stopped at MadVapes in Boone and she was in there talking to them and looking at their stuff and they started talking about my shop. He said, ‘I can’t believe the amount of business we are getting ‘cause you guys are shut down.’ My customers are going to Boone and Wilkes. They don’t know I’m here. I’ve done everything I can do right now. I don’t make enough to rent a billboard.”
To exacerbate the situation, Harris is still struggling to stay ahead of expenses.
“Bills and insurance: that doesn’t go away,” he said. “I still have bills at home. They didn’t stop because my business stopped. I have had a couple of moments during the past five weeks and said, ‘I want to quit and give up.’ Its’ demoralizing. It hurts. When you have a week when you only make 200, 300 bucks a week and still have to pay for product and gas, it doesn’t leave much left to pay bills. But I can’t. This is my passion. I love the business I got. I enjoy it so much. I just have to pick myself back up and kick my self in rear and get back up.”
Reach Jesse Campbell at (336) 846-7164.