Belmont smoke shop opens in former Sub Corral; owner hopes for legal pot sales

Gavin Stewart

| The Gaston Gazette

A tobacco, e-cigarette and smoke shop recently opened for business in a former sub and pizza restaurant in Belmont.

Those who once ventured up and down Wilkinson Boulevard searching for a bite to eat probably remember Sub Corral, which opened in 1981, changed ownership in 2013 and closed in 2018. Following nearly three years of vacancy and a major renovation by Mullis Construction Group, Catawba Puff N Play Smoke Shop opened at the former restaurant in December.

Sub Corral’s first owner, Chris Kavanaugh, still owns the building, located at 6831 Wilkinson Blvd. Bob Patel, who also runs the Citgo Xpress Mart on the corner of Tuckaseege Road and Beatty Drive in Mount Holly, recently began leasing the building from Kavanaugh to open Catawba Puff N Play.

“We pretty much gutted it out,” Patel said. “We put new walls up, new ceilings, new air conditioning, we freshened up the parking lot and we had to [install] brand new electrical because it was old and outdated.”

Those who enter the business from the front will be welcomed by the checkout counter, display cases and green-glowing display shelves full of colorful products. The gray, white and green interior matches the building’s new exterior aesthetic.

Catawba Puff N Play sells a number of different smoking products, including hemp, vapes and e-cigarettes, kratom, cigars, hookah, glass pipes and much more. Customers who visit the shop will also find a bitcoin machine, cornhole boards and two “skill games” machines, which reward paying players with store mer if mastered.

Patel, 34, sells many smoking products at his gas station, but most customers who shop there are in hurry.

Due to the growing popularity among those smoking products, Patel needed a customer service and sales-oriented business that allowed customers to consult employees without the rush of a convenience store.

Rather than removing the old deck attached to the former restaurant, Patel had the deck refinished and added a picnic table for those who order from Tino’s Munch Box – a new food truck serving wings, tacos and more that parks at Catawba Puff N Play throughout the week during lunchtime.

“People can hang out, eat out there and play cornhole in the summertime,” Patel said.

Catawba Puff N Play also sells snacks, candy bars, sodas, cigarettes and other pick-me-up products, similar to a convenience store or gas station.

“It’s not your traditional smoke shop. I’m trying to have multiple businesses in one,” Patel said.

Potential dispensary

Patel left the building’s 1,000-square-feet kitchen alone during the renovation. Like many smoke and hemp stores across North Carolina, Patel said he’s preparing for marijuana legalization by dedicating the kitchen to Catawba Puff N Play’s future greenhouse.

Catawba Puff N Play sits on an acre, which gives Patel enough room to expand his business for marijuana sales if he chooses to buy the property at the end of the lease.

Patel recognizes there’s more convincing needed in North Carolina, but he expects legalization will come within the next three years.

“This is a long shot. If North Carolina approves marijuana, I’m already set here,” he said. “This property particularly interested me because there’s so much room here.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam entered 2021 backing a complete legalization of marijuana for adult use. His administration released a nearly 500-page report in November that details the potential economic impacts surrounding legal sales and use of marijuana.

At its current trajectory, Virginia could be the first southern state to legalize marijuana. Marijuana was officially decriminalized in Virginia in July 2020, meaning those caught possessing less than an ounce now face a maximum punishment of a $25 civil fine, but no arrest and no criminal record.

You can reach reporter Gavin Stewart at 704-869-1819 or on Twitter @GavinGazette.

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