For almost 20 years the smell of incense, sounds of classic rock n’ roll, and artistic shop atmosphere has drawn customers in through the doors of Hippie Gypsy. Once inside, they are immediately taken back to the hippie days of flower crowns, tie-dye, peace signs, and rock posters.
Hippie Gypsy has made a name for themselves over the years selling everything from belts, backpacks, incense, tie-dye apparel, and rock n’ roll posters as well as offering an impressive display of unique glass pipes, hookah, and other smoke shop essentials. The smoke shop’s success has allowed it to grow to three locations. Each location is unique, while staying true to the brand.
Louise Barton and Fred Russell created Hippie Gypsy in 1998. The idea to start the shop came about as they were listening to Mobile by The Who and were inspired by the lyric,” Keep me moving, Over fifty, Keep me groovin’, Just a Hippie Gypsy, Come on move now.”
Before Hippie Gypsy, Louise had been selling men’s clothing on the road for 10 years in Minnesota for a few different clothing brands, owned a VHS store at the height of rental popularity, and had her own side business wholesaling cigars.
Fred had worked in the industry for many years. In the nineties he helped bring glass on glass to the market and started a company that made some of the first flavored rolling papers. He also owned an American manufacturing company called Artsy Fartsy Glass and today still owns and operates a distributing company out of Arizona, Good Time Products Distribution.
The first Hippie Gypsy location was in a strip mall on the East side of Phoenix, Arizona.
“That first location completely embodied the seventies. It had everything from tie-dye, incense, and stickers to water pipes and other smoke shop essentials,” explains John Russell, son to Fred and Louise.
After a few year years of growth, Fred and Louise opened a second store in Tempe. Unlike the first location, the Tempe store was on the main drag near Arizona State University and saw tons of foot traffic from all the bars and shops in the area. The shop features an impressive mural on the floor – a unique feature that makes it stand out from other smoke shops in the area.
“With all the students in the area and our clear visibility, our popularity shot through the roof. We took what we learned with the Tempe location and applied that to our next location in Tucson in 2001 – which is right near the University of Arizona. That location is easily the most stunning location that we have today. It has a rock n’ roll mural done by local artists that wraps all the way around the entire outside of the building and features sixties and seventies artists – it’s really an eye-catching building,” explains John.
Not all success stories come without failures. The Phoenix strip mall location ended up closing doors in 2002 since it wasn’t seeing nearly as much the traffic as the other locations. Fred and Louise had also opened and closed another location Tucson in 2004.
“The biggest difference between the two success stories in Tempe and Tucson and the failures in Phoenix and Tucson was simply the location. Without the walk-by traffic and without people just wandering in from off the street, those locations struggled. With any successful business, you must learn to grow from your mistakes and struggles – and we did,” he continues.
Today, Hippie Gypsy has a third location in New Orleans, Louisiana. While watching a Mardi Gras parade in 2009 on Canal street, Fred and Louise noticed a vacant storefront and knew it would be perfect for another location.
“While literally still watching the parade, they called to ask me if I would move down to New Orleans and help them open the store because they wanted a family member involved in the opening and day to day operations here. I, of course, said yes,” recalls John.
Almost 20 years after opening their first location, Hippie Gypsy continues to stay current, but at the same time always true to their brand. Each location is truly an embodiment of the hippie era and customers get to step back in time when they visit.
“Flashbacks are free at Hippie Gypsy,” jokes John. “We burn incense, play classic rock, and everyone here is super nice. Coming into each of our locations with transport you to a different time,” he continues.
Fred, Louise, and John take education very seriously in each location. From day one they have been making sure that every customer gets what is best for them and they take the time to lay out and explain the options.
“I started working in the stores in Tempe when I was in high school. I felt like the coolest kid on the street. I dove head first into this industry and I have never looked back. I feel very blessed to have the knowledge I have acquired over the years by going to trade shows, wholesaling glass, and making cold calls. I have so much experience from both the retail and wholesale side and that is something for which I am truly thankful,” reflects John.
The inventory of each Hippie Gypsy location is specific to the city where the shop is located, but never strays away from the overall flower child vibe customers have grown to love. Locations feature work from local artists and glassblowers – so no location has the same display. The same goes for the clothing that is carried in stores – it fits the overall store vibe, but each store has a different selection. The Tempe and Tucson location cater towards crowds that would appreciate organic clothing as well. Fred, Louise, and John are passionate about the industry and serving their customers so they take the time to get to know the demands of each location and make it happen.
For any smoke shops out there today that may be struggling to make it work, John urges owners to be themselves and to find a unique way to stand out.
“You don’t want be like everyone else. Don’t get caught up in the idea that you, as a shop owner, need to be doing what everyone else is doing because you don’t. Hippie Gypsy is really unique and not like a lot of other shops out there, which is something we work hard at and has set us apart from out competition. We are known for the experience we create,” he advises.
“Don’t be afraid to change either. As CBD grows in popularity for example, that is something we are excited to embrace when we can. You can’t be afraid to try something new,” he continues.
Customers visit again and again for the products on the shelves, but also for the experience. Every customer is greeted by the friendly and passionate staff that also have an extensive knowledge of their products and how to help customers find what they need.
“The people that work here make us who we are – they are the true reason for our success,” says John.
Backed by passionate owners who know how to stay relevant in today’s fast paced industry, Hippie Gypsy will surely be around for years to come. Their unique vibe, cool inventory, fun and knowledgeable team, and prime locations have made them a force to be reckoned with. SVBS