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As Long as We Remember...

December 12, 2012

Visions of Spice, Naughty & Nice

Norman M. Covert

T’was the week or two before Christmas and Santa Claus probably can’t believe what he is seeing in his naughty and nice list. “They” say Jolly Old St. Nick should pop chunks of coal in Joe Cohen’s stockings this Christmas Eve. The North Pole doesn’t work that way.


“They” includes business competitors, city and county politicians, various health departments, the Daily Blather and local radio news. They have made him Public Enemy No. 1.


It is the latest installment of the soap opera that reminds us all what a “small” town Frederick remains.


Mr. Cohen is an affable local entrepreneur and political gadfly, who never fails to get under someone’s skin as he tries to make a buck in the retail business. Since emigrating from his native England, Mr. Cohen has become an advocate, exercising his rights as an American citizen. If there is flap on North Market Street, Mr. C will be in the middle of it.


This time it isn’t flags, signs or insistence that Christmas lights on North Market Street stay on until summer, as Mr. Cohen once suggested. The issue surrounds a product called “Spice,” which is part of his eclectic inventory at British Cigars and British Goodies, just up from the Square Corner.


The product is marketed under the brand names K2 and Spice, plus a couple knockoff brands. Described as ‘herbal incense,” the product is just that; but it also mimics cannabis, also called weed, pot, grass or marijuana.


We heard critics of the product say how local youths would flock to a now shuttered outlet in Urbana to purchase the product to smoke it before school starts. A litany of horror stories buttressed the claims that Spice was ruining our young people.


Our “Youth” must be protected from themselves, these morality monitors insist. Yes, kids will sniff glue, paint fumes, and do lots of crazy stunts to show off, but this Spice? It is the potpourri of the devil, and there stands Mr. Cohen.


You may recall Professor Harold Hill, who claimed in “The Music Man” that “we’ve got trouble, trouble, right here in River City,” pointing out the menace of a new pool table at the billiard parlor.


Well, we’ve got pool tables, too, but it’s Spice – right here in Frederick, and you might still find it at 14 North Market Street. One character, mimicking the professor, has staged an on-again-off-again vigil decrying the product and Mr. Cohen’s apparent lack of morality.


The past two weeks, Mr. Cohen has been on the front page, displacing the coming national fiscal disaster, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Syria and a host of other stories more relevant to our daily business.


Mr. Cohen doesn’t fit the image of a vendor purveying dime bags of some illegal substance on the back alleys of Frederick. He’s an “up front” person, who maintains friendships among those with whom he often disagrees.


I don’t recommend smoking the “herbal incense,” but believe Mr. Cohen has the right to sell legal products without interference.


I don’t blame him for letting the business phone ring. He’s not afraid of anyone, having faced off with mayors and a variety of inspectors, who cited him for, among other improprieties, improper display of flags at his original location at the corner of West Second Street. The flags were said to “menace” pedestrians by hanging a little too low from his stoop.


Mr. Cohen, who unsuccessfully campaigned for city alderman in 2009, is always good for a story. Reporters chase him down for business, political and social commentary; they know he is good for a quote.


He has faced off with a succession of mayors on issues affecting business on main street, but remains among the “real people” downtown.


I hope we can get this issue settled. In the meantime Mr. Cohen is getting lots of publicity; they continue to spell his name correctly; and the traffic in his flagship store remains brisk.


It wasn’t so long ago that a neighboring business owner joined the verbal fray and Mr. Cohen got tired of it.


He posted a message on the portable board on the sidewalk for his critics to see. He wrote in Yiddish, “Kush Mir im Tochas (Kiss my A**!).”


I concur in the sentiment, which a City Hall inspector insisted didn’t fit the legal use of such sandwich boards. The message was displayed long enough for critics to see. They were not amused.


Perhaps the residents of this “Whoville” will back off. Santa Claus is smart enough to understand that Mr. Cohen is not the “Grinch.” He does have a good heart, undeserving of coal in his stocking. 


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