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County to Head Shop: Cigar Mural Has Got to Go

by ARLnow.com August 21, 2012 at 1:50 pm 18,677 142 Comments

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes, in Arlington County, it constitutes an illegal outdoor sign.

A new store in Crystal City found that out the hard way recently when a new mural got a thumbs down from county zoning officials.

Smokey Shope III opened three months ago at 554 23rd Street S. in Crystal City. The store is a head shop — it sells paraphernalia that’s ostensibly intended for the smoking of tobacco. Merchandise includes bowls, water pipes, hookahs, cigars, cigarettes, shisha, gifts and a type of Afghan jewelry known as lapis lazuli. One employee described the store as “a place where people can unite… and have positive energy.”

About two weeks ago, Smokey Shope’s manager said, the store paid $1,000 to a traveling band of artists to paint a mural on the front of the store. Salim Amin, the manager, said the intent was to create a work of art that would beautify the block. The finished product was a man, smoking a cigar, with colorful and decorative smoke emanating from the cigar.

Just two days after the mural was complete, however, zoning officials stopped by with some instructions: the cigar had to go up in smoke, so to speak, as it’s a product being sold by the business and thus an illegal sign according to the county’s zoning ordinance. The situation mirrored that of Wag More Dogs, an Arlington dog grooming and boarding business that has (unsuccessfully) fought in federal court to have its mural of playful pups deemed art instead of advertising.

“We have not received complaints, but we have investigated the mural,” Norma Cozart, Arlington County’s Zoning Administrator, told ARLnow.com. “We have spoken to the shop owner and the cigar must go; then the mural can stay. Without the cigar, it is not a sign and staying or leaving is up to the landlord.”

The shop, which is directly across from Freddie’s Beach Bar and other 23rd Street restaurants, says other merchants on the block have signed on to a statement of support for the mural. But Amin says they’re nonetheless exploring ways to remove or paint over the cigar without destroying the mural. One idea is to repaint it into some sort of hot, steaming food — perhaps a falafel.

A final decision will likely have to wait until the store’s owner, Atta “Smokey” Amin, returns from a vacation in Jamaica next week. In the meantime, the store is continuing to market its wares to the local community, a marketing effort that has included placing colorful handout flyers on car windshields throughout the Crystal City area.

Smokey Shope has two other locations, in Fairfax and Manassas, and is hoping to open a third in D.C. in the near future.

  • Duderino

    “This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind limber.”

    • awesomepossum

      Love weed, hate the mural. Maybe they could stop selling cigars and they would be fine.

      • Charles

        “Complaints” as mentioned in the article are not prerequisite for obeying or enforcing the law. Arlington County is doing the right thing by making them remove it.

  • Westover05

    “A final decision will likely have to wait until the store’s owner, Amin “Smokey” Atta, returns from a vacation in Jamaica next week.”


    Cool mural. It shoud stay.

    • Locked up abroad

      Be sure to check his luggage when he returns from his “vacation”

    • South Awwlington

      Agreed, Couldn’t we support this under the “Public Art” clause Mr. Fisette?

      • WeiQiang

        … or put the mural on the side of the tank at the sewage treatment plant. Save $330,000

  • stifling creativity and originality, that’s my arlington!

    • DCBuff

      I bet if it was a mural of a guy smoking a cigar on a trolley that would be fine. Or, inside the Artisphere. Or, while paying taxes.

    • B0rk


      • South Awwlington

        I gotta say, I agree with your point. Arlington is very concerned with being labeled vibrant and diverse…and IMMEDIATELY puts a stop to anything edgy and less than white bread.

        For this, Arlington, you fail.

        • Azamat Bagatov

          Yea it’s strange…The county’s version of vibrant seems to be completely sterile.

          • US Department of Irony

            see also: Artomatic … in Crystal City

  • Clarendon Lover

    I almost spit out my lunch after reading Smokey was on vacation but returning soon from Jamaica.

    • Kumar

      too late … I had to wipe my coffee off my screen to type this.

  • Richard Cranium

    Remove the cigar band from the cigar and call it a Bob Marley joint. As long as the store doesn’t sell Bob Marley joints, that should be legal, right?

    • Ballstonia

      Yes! I was thinking the same thing.

  • Your Tax Dollars At Work

    What would we do without the ever vigilant minions of Arlington County…

    • FedUp


  • More FUD

    I wonder what he’s bringing back? I didn’t think Jamaica was known for their tobacco…

  • novasteve

    Knowing the libs, if they made it look like a joint they would say it’s free speech, but since it’s clearly a tobacco cigar, it’s got to go!

    • SteamboatWillie

      “knowing the libs”

      Comedy gold.

    • WeiQiang

      actually, steve, since the Smokey Shope doesn’t sell pot, I’m thinking that they would not be in violation of the law if they made the cigar look like a joint.

      finally, something cool in my neighborhood.

  • Brian

    ‘A new store in Crystal City found that out the hard way recently when a new mural got a thumbs from county zoning officials.”

    Word missing– they got a thumbs?

    • down

    • Arlingtony

      a place where people can unite… and have positive energy?

      What is this Portland?

      • HighViewPunk

        It’s San Francisco on the Potomac.

        • Put a bird on it

          The dream of the 90s is alive in…Arlington??

      • Rick

        Not Portland until streetcar tracks go in…

        • oh great….


      • I Don’t Think That We Are In Portland..

        “What is this Portland?”

        In the CB’s dreams……

        On second thought, there is a street car in Portland……

  • meh..

    Kinda creepy looking to me…..
    remove the creepy guy & cigar…leave the “smoke”. The “smoke” is kinda nice looking.

  • nunya

    who know there was a head shop.

    what’s next, spencer’s gifts and frederick’s of hollywood?

    • nunya


      • WD

        I definitely read about it on here a few months ago but can’t find a link.

      • Josh S

        That only goes so far in clarifying your writing.

    • Rick

      Isn’t there a Fredericks in Pentagon City?

      • gmfbcc


      • WeiQiang

        Have you BEEN to Freddie’s on a Sunday night?

    • DarkHeart

      Does “head shop” really mean a shop for stuff to feed your head? That’s as old as penny farthing bicycles.

      • Nunya

        Do they also sell “head cleaner”?

    • sunflower

      great! a new place to get patchouli. there are very few left…

  • Get rid of it

    I won’t miss this mural at all. Thought it was misguided as soon as it went up. Murals are fine but we don’t need ads for smoking in my neighborhood.

    • Exactly


    • B0rk

      You live in that shopping strip?

  • Ballston Resident

    OK, there might be something missing from the article that would leave non-frequent readers of this blog perplexed. What about this sign makes it illegal? Is it really just the fact that it displays an item sold by the store, or is it about size again?

    For example, can a tire store not display tires on its signs? What about car showrooms with windows that you can see the cars from. Oh no, they’re actually showing what they sell!!!!

    • Yes, it’s a combination of the size and the content of the mural that makes it illegal.

      • smokng and advertising

        and the content….I seem to remember that promoting smoking is illegal?

    • Lee-n-Glebe

      In a nutshell, there are regulations governing “signs” but not regulations (or fewer / different regulations) governing “murals”. If the County deems this a “sign” then it violates signage regulations (which ones, I’m not entirely sure).

      Your tire store example is clearly about a “sign” or advertisement. At issue here is whether this is a sign or a mural.

    • arachne

      And Gossip three doors down would need to paint a mural of naked people because they sell clothes? This could get to be fun!

      • SomeGuy

        The stores should collude. I.e. Crystal City Restaurant could commission the clothing store a few doors down to paint the naked people mural, and CCR could paint a clothing mural, each directing patrons to the other’s store. Win-win-win for both stores and the passers-by too.

        • gmfbcc

          That’s brilliant.

        • Kumar

          /\ this /\

        • arlvarunner

          You know, I was thinking about that when I was reading the court’s opinion on the Wag More Dogs mural. What if Ms. Houghton had just had the catering business next door host the mural on it’s wall? Also, if I’m not mistaken, the body shop across the alley has a mural on it’s wall too…why isn’t the county going after them too?

  • Ugh

    Forget the sign ordinance; can we have an ordinance to ban ugly art? Seriously, this thing’s hideous.

    • stephanie

      It’s pretty awesome.

      • Ugh

        No. The Grand Canyon is awesome. Niagara Falls is awesome. The Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, Angkor Wat, the Christ the Redeemer statue, elephants crossing the savannah, Uluru (Ayers Rock)–those are awesome. This is at most mildly thought-provoking. If you feel awe in viewing a cartoon depiction of a man smoking a cigar, something is wrong with you.

        • B0rk

          That’s just like, your opinion man.

  • Scott


  • CA

    “Traveling band of artists?” Were they playing flutes and throwing flower petals on the way to RenFest?

  • Fern & 23rd

    This “artwork” is seriously ugly. I bet the neighboring businesses on 23rd St. would be happy to chip in and pay to have it sand-blasted off the building!

    • Ballston Resident

      How much would you want to bet?

      Don’t read the article before you answer that.

  • David

    They should argue that its actually a joint. Can’t sell those. Thus in the clear.

    • Richard Cranium

      Now THERE’s an idea!!

  • Put a bird on it

    They could pickle it.

  • South Awwlington

    The County should leave this alone.

  • Jimmy

    What I’m wondering is if it’s intentionally called Smokey Shope III or if it’s a typo of “shoppe.” Where’s the code enforcement for grammar and spelling?!

    • DarkHeart

      Wafle House (ok, just across the border).

    • WeiQiang


  • Josh S

    The problem is that it fairly clearly violates the regulation. The County has to enforce the regulation.

    Leaving that aside, it’s a fabulous mural and adds character to the neighborhood…..

    • Ugh

      More like “adds characters to the neighborhood.”

      This isn’t the Tenderloin or Little Five Points. Clear ’em out.

      • Josh S

        Clear who out?

        And – who made you grand poobah of what the character of that neighborhood should be?

        • WeiQiang

          Seriously. I’m thinking that Freddie’s pink flamingoes will be next.

    • bobco85

      I agree completely with you, Josh S! I better get down there to take a picture of it before it gets taken down!

      The mural should stay. The regulation should go!

    • Crystaline

      I think it’s the same situation as the Wag More Dogs mural. The mural depicts the concept of the store, and that makes it a sign, and the sign doesn’t meet the County sign regulations. Erasing the cigar and calling it steam is just B. S. (blowing smoke).

  • JimPB

    Government overreach, but, alas, probably with support of a majority of the citizens.

    My focus: public safety and public health.
    Smoking does have a public safety aspect in the fires that the “nicotine delivery systems” ignite.
    And there is an enormous public health issue with smoking. To focus only on the most serious aspect: Smoking is responsible for one-fifth of the annual deaths in the US.
    The cigar has to go OR predominate warnings about the consequences of smoking added to the mural.

    • novasteve

      Are you suggesting that if people stopped smoking 20% of people wouldn’t ever die?

      • immortal

        yes he is. they would never – ever – die.

        • Jackson


          Highlanders will be battling in the streets of Crystal City!

  • Tobe

    Am I to presume from that artwork that they also sell hats?

    • obviously they do

      it’s a HEAD shop bro!

      • SmokeySalim

        actually…. we do sell hats

  • Alex

    Zoning enforcing code? Good for them for doing something, but I’d like to see more enforcement on the residential side.

  • Southeast Ben

    Maybe if they include a warning label it can stay?

  • Nigel Tufner

    This means that I wouldn’t be allowed to show a hat on a bloke at my haberdasherie ? It’s a fine line between clever and stupid.

    • Nigel Tufner

      What if I only sold lady hats ?

  • Crystaline

    “We have not received complaints, but we have investigated the mural,” Norma Cozart, Arlington County’s Zoning Administrator, told ARLnow.com. “We have spoken to the shop owner and the cigar must go; then the mural can stay. Without the cigar, it is not a sign and staying or leaving is up to the landlord.”

    I disagree with Cozart. First of all, the County has received complaints. Maybe they just didn’t forward them to her. Second, even without the cigar, it is clearly a sign for a head shop. It’s no different from Wag More Dogs and should be treated the same. Change the regulation or enforce it.

  • YTK

    Arlington is once again showing us how PROVINCIAL and backwards it is.

    • Nate

      It’s stupid of the county. This is the type of art that brings real vibrancy to a neighborhood.

      • WeiQiang

        Since purple house guy on 22nd with the gnomes got re-developed, this is almost what we needed.

      • Arlington Native

        looks like graffiti, not art.

        • Banksy

          you obviously didn’t get the memo. please exit through my shop. Thankyou

      • spookiness

        Never been a fan of murals. To me it says “welcome to our blighted neighborhood.” The worst murals are those done by children. If the owners of this store read this blog once in awhile, or followed the news (i.e. Arl’s recent sign ordinance re-write which specifically addressed this issue), they would have known better than to fork over money to a roving band of gypsies armed with spray paint cans. Then, the owner would have had more money to invest in his business, or spend on his Jamaican vacation.

        • SmokeySalim

          btw: the owner of the shop doesn’t smoke -_- before you assume stuff he is on vacation with his family. you’re being a little stereotypical if you believe Jamaica is only for potheads

  • John Fontain

    From the pictures inside the store, it looks like they sell a variety of items including posters, wind spinner, and american flags.

    In responding to the county’s request, I’d love to see the shop replace the cigar with an american flag to see if the county would require them to take down a painting of the american flag.

    • Nate

      And one of the pictures shows they are flying a flag on the front of the building. Criminals!

  • JB

    The wrong end of the cigar is lit anyway – you don’t light the end with the label.

    • SmokeySalim

      thats not the label of the cigar, its the company who painted it’s logo

  • John Fontain

    Interesting that the county goes after this sign (an artistic mural from a real, tax paying, citizen employing, productive business) while completely ignoring the signs at the corner of Glebe and Fairfax (signs which falsely advertise homelessness, carried by people who are clearly not homeless and who are clearly part of an organized pan-handling group, who don’t pay taxes on their income).

    • HungryonLee

      And Glebe and Lee Hwy. Would be nice to bust this up.

  • Rosemary’s Baby

    “The eyes, oh the eyes!!!!!!!”

  • From the only GOP in Arlington

    Welcome to communist controlled Arlington. Faceless bureaucrats make this utterly ridiculous decisions. UGH!!!! Guess that’s why my prop taxes went up nearly $600 a year — to police small business owners.

  • nostalgic

    I really wish I was a teenager again. Back then we had to drive all the way to Baltimore to buy a legit piece, now there’s stores all over the place.

  • soarlslacker

    Wow a head/cigar shop in the neighborhood! How great! Folks will not have to buy “spiritual gifts” from the UK and pay the expensive shipping anymore, or go down to Georgetown to buy a decent cigar. To buy an excellent cigar you have to go to rue Sainte-Catherine in Montreal. It makes you miss working for a Canadian company. Does anyone remember Penguin Feather Records?

  • T

    As was aptly demonstrated with “The Views at Clarendon” regulations can be changed to follow any whim of the county board — fairness and citizen input be damned. These businesses are being harassed because the county board wants them harassed.

    • soarlslacker

      Why don’t they harass the strip club (CCR) one block away? Don’t the neighborhood up-tights want to discourage children from being strippers, bouncers, etc…?
      Never go into the nearby 7-11 at 3 am–all the club employees come in at once and get snacks, dinner, and drinks. It is like being in an SNL sketch without a costume and no spoken lines.

      • WeiQiang

        agree on making the 7-11 clean up its act first … it’s a feces festival: drunk & disorderly, assaults, cars parked on the sidewalk, in Eads, and on 23rd.

        • That should be “right up your alley”.

          • WeiQiang

            *ba da BING* She’ll be here all week, folks! Shows at 8:30 and 11 …

  • MyHood

    When they were painting the mural I stopped by and told the artists that it might cause a problem with the county because of the cigar. I told them to google “wag more dogs mural,” and explained the issue. I guess I should have gone in and warned the owner myself but I had my dog with me and could not. The one guy’s response was “I guess we better take a bunch of pictures when we are done” so I am guessing none of them gave Mr. Atta any warning. That’s too bad. They could have changed it right then while they were there. I kind of like it. But then I liked Wag More’s also.

    • arlvarunner

      I still don’t understand how a mural THAT FACES A DOG PARK, with a couple of dogs playing, can be considered advertising. The mural does not depict “daycare”, “boarding” or “grooming” in any way. Granted, this entire scenario is giving Wag More Dogs more free advertising than the mural ever would have. I can see the county’s point about the cigar, but the dogs playing is ridiculous.

      • Ren

        If you’ve got a minute, take a look at the summary of the opinion – it’s interesting how the judges framed it. She basically got penalized for being honest…and for the record, I think they both are/were art. I really liked the dogs mural, seems like regulating it into oblivion was a civic minus.

        • arlvarunner

          Are you talking about when she said she was “hoping to attract future customers”? I’ll have to look up the opinion. I’d be interested to hear their reasoning.

      • Lizzie

        The Dog Park mural used the design of their Wag More Dogs logo throughout the mural, so yes, it was advertising. It wasn’t just a happy scene of dogs playing.

  • arlvarunner

    A traveling band of artists? What are they? Gypsies?

    • Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

      can’t be … they finished the mural

  • The Clowns Make Me Cry

    I’m amused (in a sad way) how Arlington has visions of being a cutting-edge, trend-setting community … but apparently only if it means the County Board gets to spend our tax dollars.

  • ArlRes

    legalize it

  • Jamaican Me Happy

    Hmmm. The DEA is just literally a few blocks away…just sayin.

  • LocalJobsNow

    In such a vibrant community, I wonder why we are outsourcing mural painting? (“sign making”)

  • “Without the cigar, it is not a sign” rivals the most arcane arguments of Sophists and Talmudic scholars. The Arlington Way of perceiving commercial reality makes them look foolish and Polyanna-ish.

  • TheBeermonger

    This may be the greatest thing ever published on this site ever, definitely including anything I write. It’s a little gem.

  • Arlingtonian

    This seedy business is trying to create a profit by glamorizing an unhealthy habit: smoking tobacco in cigars and other diverse forms. The people who support this enterprise by using its products are not only harming themselves, but are also contributing to the costs of publicly subsized medicine (Medicare, Medicaid, and, in the future, Obamacare). The mural and the business are equally disgusting.

    • Spelling Bee Champ

      Not only are they glamorizing smoking, but also bad spelling. Not sure which vice is worse.

    • Mr. Jones

      I hope you are kidding about smoking tobacco……ain’t nobody that square……..

      • Arlingtonian

        People who smoke tobacco products because they believe that smoking is cool and that non-smokers are square rank among the stupidist and most self-destructive humans on Earth. I am definitely not kidding.

        • Mr. Jones

          Hint…..they ain’t smoking ‘baccy son….sheesh.

        • What a coincidence…

          I believe that people that interfere in the personal decisions of others and/or believe that they have a right to tell someone else what he can do with his property rank among the stupidest and most destructive humans on Earth.

          • Smoking is Gross

            I believe that people who willfully consume a product guaranteed to cause many types of excruciating and lethal diseases should be banned from any type of publicly funded medical insurance or treatment, to include the emergency department.

            Your smoking is my business because one of these days, I’m going to end up helping pay for your very expensive medical care.

          • Lori

            I agree. People who drink alcohol should also be in that category. The science is there.

    • Josh S


      • B. Squanto

        sorry to make you think, but if your issue is the cost to you of other’s behavior, then why not control what they eat, weigh, how much they drink, exercise, etc…..looney liberals like you love your selfish opinions, not facts or thinking…that would challenge your uninformed opinions….please try to think…

    • SmokeySalim

      No matter what you do the business of smoking has been around hundreds of years ago, you do realize tobacco saved people’s lives? When we were just colonies, Jamestown was extremely poor and when the British got permission to plant tobacco, they were sort of saved. Since tobacco became high in demand in England and therefore Jamestown grew in wealth. Why destroy something like that? We’re all eventually going to go sometime, do what you enjoy in the meantime. Just because you don’t enjoy smoking doesn’t mean you have to ‘shove your opinions’ down people’s throat.

  • JoshR

    I’m conflicted about this. On the one hand, I hate government overreach. Yet, on the other, I hate pot smoking hippies. Whose side do I take? Argh!

  • S. Arlington Resident

    Make it a joint – they don’t sell left handed cigarettes there.

  • Stating the Obvious

    The man in the mural looks a little like Tom Waits.

  • Give South Arl to Alex

    Vibrant!?! Crystal City? Ick. Who would want to hang out in…of all places…lugubrious south Arlington? Oh, the HORROR! I thought we were supposed to have razed that place to the ground and rebuilt a second Clarendon by now. Until that happens, who cares what they paint on their walls. Let them have some fun!

  • jorge

    I won’t be sad if they go. The quality of their cigars sucks. Lots of filler. I never expected the quality of “Old Virginia” at the mall or “Cigar Connections” in Ballston, but dang, I could have gone to 7-Eleven and had a nasty Dutch Masters for a lot less money.

    Plus I found their staff to be surly, like a bunch of middle-schoolers. I wasn’t looking for genuflection, but you’d think they’d be just a little grateful for the business as they are still new.

  • B. Squanto

    everyone is missing the most important issue here…town’s need to have all signage approved or else everyone would put any sign anywhere and the town would look horrible…please try to go beyond your own selfish opinions and think!!!


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