Before one-click shopping and the current wave of marijuana reform, a business opened its doors in Mandeville providing an alternative smoke shop to a region previously devoid of such amenities. Since opening in 1994, Ra Shop (citywide; www.rashop.us) continues to grow.
"We appreciate our customers and feel that over the last 23 years we've provided them with a unique smoke shop environment," says co-owner Gary Bettencourtt. "It's about personal service and the knowledge and resources to accommodate everyone's request."
Today, Ra Shop — with its vibrant yellow signage — is a familiar name. With 11 stores across Louisiana and Mississippi (and two more to come), the owners of the tobacco and vape store attribute its longstanding success to an ability to adapt to the market. The store has earned a reputation for being at the forefront of the industry.
The array of tobacco and vape- friendly merchandise that fills each location includes a selection of hookahs, incense and water pipes. The e-cigarette market, popular for people trying to quit smoking cigarettes (or save money), is alive at Ra Shop, where Bettencourtt says customers can select from top designer brands and accessories.
The newest location is in the heart of the French Quarter at 733 Toulouse St., adjacent to Bourbon Street, and is a custom remodel. The 200-year-old-plus building has all the historic charm the neighborhood promises. It's attached to the historic Hotel Maison de Ville, which has wrought-iron finishes and private quarters for the owners on the second floor.
Though the store is colloquially known as a "head shop," supplying glass pipes and detox products, the Ra Shop also boasts an array of tobacco products.
"We also have a great select- ion of top-brand cigars," Bettencourtt says. Expect to find names like Montecristo, Macanudo, Romeo y Julieta, Partagas and Cohiba on display. The store also stocks cigar cutters, matches and lighters for anyone from first-timers to cigar aficionados.
"We attend trade shows every year," Bettencourtt says. "When there are innovative products at market, we try to be the first to bring it home."
The business' yearly toil should bring new provisions across all the stores, especially if the trend toward marijuana decriminalization continues across the United States and Louisiana. Louisiana is currently one of 28 states developing programs to cultivate marijuana for medical use.