The Evolution of Head Shops

In today’s paraphernalia stores, exotic pipes replace black light posters

Produced by N&R Publications, a division of News & Review

Head shops have come far since the late '60s, when San Francisco's Psychedelic Shop started selling pot paraphernalia with its posters. Fifty years ago, the closest thing Sacramento had was an Indian imports store on K Street that sold rolling papers, clips, and played KZAP on the radio. Kids relied on hardware stores and creativity to engineer anything more complicated.

By the mid-1970s, commercial head shops were abundant, and the gold standard was Tower Posters on Watt Avenue. “We sold black light posters, bongs, papers, roach clips, leather jewelry, incense and any other paraphernalia you could imagine,” said Julie Coyle, who worked for owner Russ Solomon, who passed away this month. Coyle remembers the Tower atmosphere as “fun and vibrant” in those days. “I always had the feeling that it was not profitable, but it was a landmark destination for stoners.”

In the early 1980s, Gov. George Deukmejian signed an anti-paraphernalia law, defining it as anything that aided in the use of illegal drugs. A pipe was considered illegal by merely talking about cannabis when buying one. It became so difficult to sell paraphernalia, head shops across the state closed.

Berkeley's famous store, Annapurna, stayed open, but issued stern warnings about mentioning “illegal uses” inside. Customers had to navigate a code language for their “tobacco” supplies. In Sacramento, Russ Solomon closed Tower Posters and put his inventory, fuzzy black light posters and all, into permanent storage. The golden age was over.

Head shops made a quiet comeback in the 1990s, after medical cannabis was legalized. But if psychedelic posters were the “art” feature at old shops, exotic glass pipes bring the customers now. “Designs by well-known pipe makers can go for $750,” said Jaeden Gales at Hella Glass, which houses a separate gallery for handmade bongs and dab rigs. Besides papers and pipes, today's head shops carry CBD products, odorless courier bags, and kits to pass a drug test. “It's OK to talk about cannabis,” says Gales. “We want to be a place where customers feel comfortable, whether you are young or old.” But the traditional rule still applies. If your intentions aren't legal, don't mention them inside.