Diversity: Music smokes, not patrons, at Dormont shop
January 3, 2013 10:15 AM
Store owners Buddy and Michelle Hall.
By Harry Funk
This new year came early for Buddy Hall, at least as far as making a resolution.
The Dormont man and longtime music producer had a cigarette habit, much to his dismay as well as that of his nonsmoking wife, Michelle. During a party over the summer, one of her co-workers offered Mr. Hall a puff on something he'd never seen or heard of before.
"I have not even considered a cigarette since," he said.
The magic elixir, so to speak, was contained within an electronic cigarette, a device that impressed the Halls so much that they decided to go into the "e-cig" business. And as it turned out, they decided on several other businesses, hence the name of their store: Diversity.
The shop on West Liberty Avenue, not far from the couple's home, carries such items as CDs by local musicians, scented candles, clothing and Felix the Cat logos.
Felix's logo adorns custom guitars that hang from Diversity's walls. They're the work of Don Oriolo, who owns the rights to the 90-year-old cartoon character and, as a lifetime music enthusiast, decided to market his own line of instruments.
They're starting to find some high-profile players. For example, Bryan Bassett, the Pittsburgh-native member of the rock band Foghat, purchased one during a recent visit.
Mr. Hall also talked him into buying an electronic cigarette kit to help him kick his habit.
"He texted me later and said he thought it would work," Mr. Hall reported.
His goal is to encourage as many smokers as he can to make the switch: "Saving lives, one at a time," he said as he took the occasional puff from his e-cig.
The cigarettes deliver nicotine using a device called an atomizer that produces a fine vapor. The nicotine is mixed into an "e-liquid" solution that also can incorporate any of a wide assortment of flavorings.
Anastasia Vari of Crafton has been sampling various flavors since discovering e-cigs at Diversity. She said her favorite so far is Orange Tic Tac, and she enjoys others that satisfy her sweet tooth.
"I won't eat gum or chew lollipops anymore," said Ms. Vari, who also has put the brakes on a decades-long smoking habit. "From the very first day I started doing this, I didn't want a cigarette. And I don't stink anymore."
The Halls said the store is becoming a destination for the region's e-cig enthusiasts -- they call what they do "vaping" -- and those folks have a lot to teach the owners about what they're selling.
"There's a whole world of 'vapists' I wasn't even aware of," Mr. Hall said. "They're the coolest people we never knew existed."
He didn't know the Oriolo guitars existed until a friend met the originator at a trade show in Nashville, Tenn., and brought one of the instruments back to Pittsburgh.
"I loved it and used it on a couple of sessions," Mr. Hall said. He and his wife decided to add the line to their offerings, and now Diversity is one of only two stores -- the other is in Lafayette, N.J. -- carrying Oriolos.
Diversity also carries Divine Scentsations, a line of candles created by Mrs. Hall's friend Debbie Romano.
"When we decided we were going to do the store, we like to help hometown people," Mrs. Hall said.
That also applies to the CDs on display, by musicians who might not get a lot of exposure elsewhere. The Halls sell the discs as a courtesy, asking that the artists donate some of the proceeds toward the Hollywood Theater to preserve it as a Dormont entertainment venue.
For the couple, Diversity not only represents their first retail venture but an opportunity to meet people away from their regular jobs. Mrs. Hall owns Pittsburgh Reporting Service, which provides reporters for courts.
"I just love the interaction," she said about Diversity. "Everything in this store kind of came together at the same time, like it was meant to be."