Shop’s Relocation Has Residents Questioning Its Inventory
CORRECTION: Saturday, July 27, 2013: Magic Mushroom recently moved to a site on Route 5 just south of the Route 44A intersection. Its new location is about a half-mile farther from the Weathersfield School than its previous site along Route 5 near Route 131. A map with a story about the Ascutney store in the July 18 Valley News, and a subsequent editorial on Wednesday, July 24, gave an incorrect location for the shop.
CORRECTION: Friday, Sept. 6, 2013: Leanna LeBarron runs the Magic Mushroom store in Ascutney with her husband. A story in the July 18 Valley News misspelled her last name.
Ascutney — A recently relocated retail shop has drawn the ire of residents who oppose the sale of smoking paraphernalia and adult novelties in their community.
Locally owned Magic Mushroom, which sells items including waterpipes, adult videos, tattoo equipment and lingerie, has been operating in Ascutney for three years . In early July, the shop settled into a larger storefront off Route 5.
The new location is just a half mile away from the old store, but some residents are concerned about the shop’s new proximity to Weathersfield School — which is within a mile — and the types of shoppers the store would attract.
“The Magic Mushroom is definitely not what members of this community want to see in this town,” said resident Geraldine Rudenfeldt, 77. “It’s just come to my attention that it’s here, and I’m disturbed by it.”
Leanna LeVarron, who runs the store with her husband, said no one has approached her with concerns about the store’s location or inventory.
In the past, people have questioned the nature of her business. Once, two residents who came into the old Magic Mushroom location were skeptical of why she kept the blinds drawn, LeVarron said.
And LeVarron, who operates another Magic Mushroom location in Springfield, Vt., said when the store was presenting its case to the town’s Selectboard to obtain a tobacco permit, officials seemed judgmental.
“It’s a tobacco shop,” she said Wednesday. “If they don’t like it, they can choose to walk away. We’re not out to publicize this to children.”
For about two months, concerned residents such as Rudenfeldt have been meeting to discuss what could be done about the store and its wares. Although customers ostensibly buy the store’s smoking paraphernalia for tobacco, Magic Mushroom opponents say the blown-glass pipes for sale there are more commonly used to smoke marijuana, and are fearful the shop could attract a criminal element.
“I don’t think they’re buying them to smoke tobacco,” said Vicki Gass, a coordinator with the Mt. Ascutney Prevention Program whose job involves educating community members about the dangers of substance abuse, obesity and general health issues.
Gass said about as many as a dozen Weathersfield residents spoke to her with concerns about the Magic Mushroom, and several others communicated with her via email.
“The message is that they don’t want to see this type of development in the community,” Gass said in a phone interview Wednesday. “This being the Magic Mushroom.”
“We’re living in a society where there’s rising health care costs, increasing substance abuse among youths,” she continued. “So what is the message we’re saying to kids if we allow a business like this to expand? Especially when they’re close to schools.”
Melanie Sheehan, a Weathersfield resident and director of community health outreach at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, said she has worked closely with the group.
“I did an unofficial poll on Facebook,” Sheehan said, “and asked the question: Have you ever seen somebody smoke legal tobacco out of a ... blown pipe or bowl? Everybody (who replied) said they hadn’t.”
The group has since attended Selectboard meetings, she said, and been in contact with Michael Todd, chairman of the town’s Planning Commission, who is sympathetic to opponents’ concerns.
“There’s nothing on the book that says they can’t be here,” Sheehan said. “They are here to stay. We are going to try to prevent their expansion.”
Todd said the solution won’t be that simple.
“The store is legal. Selling the pipes is legal. What people may do with them afterwards is what’s not legal,” he said. “You can’t stop a business from being a business.”
Since last Monday, Todd said he has been reviewing similar cases in other communities.
Earlier this year in Ludlow, Vt., the village adopted an ordinance “prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries and establishments that sell or display drug and tobacco paraphernalia.”
And in Pembroke, N.H., Larry Preston, a former town selectman, is embroiled in a lawsuit after being denied permission to sell clothing, handcuffs and whips at his shop, Trevor’s Toys.
Todd said a larger discussion over the issue would probably occur at the Selectboard hearing in early August.
“I think we’re limited (as a town) on what we can do,” Todd said. “I think we can regulate where they can sell, not whether they can do it. Right now, we’re just continuing to look at what will and won’t work.”
LeVarron said customers must be 18 years or older to purchase anything from the shop.
The Magic Mushroom does have an adult-video section, but, again, shoppers must 18 years of age and can’t gain access without showing identification .
In LeVarron’s mind, this is a better alternative, a safer location, to gas stations that “sell crack pipes or wacky blends.”
“This is our hometown,” LeVarron said. “If we can’t operate a business in our hometown, then that’s pretty sad.”
Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.