· By Jay Nathan
The History — and Future! — of Head Shops
Do you remember your first trip to a head shop? These old-school smoke shops aim to “get your head right” with glass pipes, hookahs, and racks of tie dye t-shirts.
It might sound like a dream for cannabis enthusiasts, but typical head shops can feel awkward or even uncomfortable for folks who don’t fit the stoner stereotype.
Baby’s First Head Shop
I was 16-years-old when I drove two hours to the original hippie haven of Woodstock, NY. I thought walking into a head shop would feel like a warm embrace where I would be surrounded by creative people like me who loved cannabis.
Instead, I was greeted by a cloud of cheap incense and a zonked out salesperson. The walls were covered in dingy tapestries and racist Bob Marley dreadlock hats. Rows of identical pipes were locked in sterile glass cases and I needed to know the “right” words to see them up close. The dude behind the counter was clearly annoyed by this genderqueer kid seeking cannabis community.
It left me wondering — Have head shops always been this bad or was there a golden era?
I also needed to know — Will there ever be a head shop for people like me?
Head Shops Through History
Like most cannabis lore, there’s no official record of the first head shop. One of the first was the Psychedelic Shop in San Francisco, which opened in 1966. Some canna-scholars point to The Shrunken Head in Denton, Texas. We do know that the oldest head shop still in operation is Captain Ed's in Los Angeles.
The OG head shops of the 1960s and ‘70s were so much more than a place to buy a t-shirt. They were gathering places where people who wanted to break free from society’s rigid expectations could find each other.
These shops put community and education first. The underground magazines and newspapers they sold were lifelines in a pre-internet era when most mainstream information about cannabis and psychedelics was propaganda. People who wanted to experience altered consciousness could purchase psychedelic art, glass pipes, and sometimes a little greenery behind the beaded curtain.
By the 1980s, head shops across the country were in crisis. The War on Drugs increased surveillance, limited gatherings, and heavily restricted the kinds of items that could be sold in stores. Thousands of head shops closed. Many of the remaining ones refocused on education and activism, simultaneously making them less profitable and the targets of police scrutiny.
During the ‘90s and 2000s, independent head shops continued to dwindle as malls and chain stores started selling posters, incense, and mass-produced hippie clothes.
When states started legalizing recreational cannabis in the mid-2010s, it flipped the script on head shops again. Some dispensaries in legal states have a limited selection of pipes and accessories, but they aren’t necessarily the gathering places and educational hubs that made the head shops of the ‘60s and ‘70s so important.
Is This the Future of Head Shops?
Fast forward to 2021. Dispensaries are open in a region of Massachusetts I know and love. Finally, I can buy legal weed. Will this be the cannabis experience I yearned for?
Welp, not exactly. Yes, it was surreal and amazing to walk into a store and buy weed. It was incredible to see the THC percentages and terpene profiles of dozens of strains. Did I find cannabis community? Not exactly.
The dispensaries were cold and impersonal. Some had echoey warehouse vibes, others felt like regular pharmacies but with way more security. The budtenders answered my questions as quickly as possible, simply reciting facts I’d already read on their website. They didn’t want to talk about how the cannabis was grown, local cannabis events, or the state’s social equity program.
I was shuffled in and out the door in minutes. These days I’m well-versed in cannabis science, history, and culture, but the community I needed felt even more out of reach.
Then I realized — the cannabis experience I’m seeking actually exists in North Carolina!
A Head Shop for You and Me
What if there was a boutique smoke shop that felt like a magazine — stunning design, stylish cannabis-inspired wares, fresh ideas, and a curated selection of CBD. Maybe it could be a hub for social justice, education, and community connections. Is this just a stoner’s pipe dream?
This heavenly head shop is real — and right here in Asheville. Garden Party is a place to feel immersed in the glorious world of cannabis. It’s a place to learn without stigma and discover without judgment. A true gathering space for like-minded people.
We want to get to know you and hear about your wellness goals. Ask us questions. Get a mini science lesson about the endocannabinoid system. Flip through a magazine. Bop your head to 70s film scores. Sniff all the candles. Tell us about your favorite strains or explore CBD for the first time.
Working here and getting to know all of you is the cannabis community I always wanted. I show up with my queerness, gender nonconformity, and nerdy enthusiasm and y’all respond with the things that make you most genuine. I feel like my true self when I walk in the door and I hope you do, too.
Garden Party is a place to revel in your authenticity. We are all welcome here.