Dave Baker is well aware that his new downtown Watertown tobacco and novelty shop, MN Puff N Stuff, may come with negative perceptions. The Lewis Avenue store opened on Oct. 1, and the first-time retail business owner said he understands some people may have concerns.
That’s why Baker is doing everything he can to make it known he intends to be an asset to the community, not detract from it. During the first week his store was open, Baker said he spent time each day going up and down Lewis Avenue, sweeping up cigarette butts from the streets and sidewalks. He said he also hopes to adopt a park in town in the future, and eventually hopes to bring more jobs to the city through an expansion of the T-shirt side of his business. In short, Baker said he wants to be as involved in the community as possible.
“I want to make sure people understand I’m trying to make this a community-based organization that will do as many good things for the community as I can,” he said. “I don’t want people to look at a smoke shop and think, ‘Oh, he’s just putting cigarette butts into our community. I want people to know that I want to bring as many positive things as there are negative perceptions of a tobacco shop. I want it to have a good image.”
The idea of community involvement is what drew Baker to opening a store in the first place. A longtime resident of the Twin Cities, Baker moved to Watertown a little more than 3 years ago. The move to Watertown, he said, was mainly because he found the perfect house, but that the community had a lot to do with making it the perfect house.
“Watertown is a great town in the fact that it’s self sufficient,” he said. “If I want to stay in town and live here, I don’t have to go out of town to get stuff. In a lot of small towns, that isn’t there. But here, you have the hardware store, you have the grocery store, you have everything that you need.”
Baker quickly knew he wanted to become more involved in the town, but as a self-employed systems engineer for the last 15 years, he didn’t necessarily get that feeling of local involvement as he worked to install and maintain computer systems throughout the Twin Cities. That’s why Baker says it has long been a goal of his to live and work in the same community, and opening a store of his own allows him to become much more connected to the community.
“The thought of having a business in the community where I live, and especially in a small community, was important to me,” said Baker, who is still running his computer business, but hopes to take a bit of a step back. “I want the store to work in the community, to clean up the community, and just have a lot of involvement. It was my way of being involved in the community.”
Baker got into the computer industry during its infancy in 1994, and says that now, as many people are just beginning to flock to the technology and computer world, he’s hoping to take at least a bit of a step back. Still, his love of technology, gadgets and computers is evident in his store, most noticeably in the absence of a typical cash register. Instead, Baker uses an android tablet as his point of sale system, a technology that uses far less energy than a traditional cash register. Baker even helped the company enhance the system by designing codes to open a cash drawer.
Baker eventually hopes to use his expertise in computers and technology to expand the T-shirt side of his business. In addition to other novelty and gag gift items, Baker sells novelty T-shirts and hopes to eventually begin printing his own T-shirts in larger quantities to sell online, an endeavor that would eventually require a larger facility and larger work force.
“I’d like to get into the silk screening and bring in people and actually have a manufacturing base where we can make 100 T-shirts a day and sell them on the internet,” Baker said. “There’s a lot of high end businesses out there that are doing it, and I think there’s a market for it.”
In the meantime, Baker will focus on the tobacco and novelty side of his business. Interestingly enough, it was actually a novelty store that Baker wanted to open, and the tobacco end of it happened by chance when he had the opportunity to purchase the inventory from the tobacco shop in Delano when it closed.
“I had always wanted to have a novelty shop because I’m a practical joker by nature,” Baker said. “The tobacco just kind of gave me a business that was already running and allowed me to expand and diversify it.”
Baker also stressed the importance that his store is for adults only, and added that he makes use of a state-of-art system to scan and check the validity of driver’s licenses and IDs.
“Without their ID, they don’t get anything,” he said. “Without their ID, they don’t really get through the door.”
Baker also said it was important to note, given the increasing media scrutiny of synthetic drugs and the dangers they pose, that those would never be sold in his store, nor does he condone their use in any way.
“My personal belief is they are dangerous,” he said. “They’re made by chemists in garages. Even if it is legal, I still won’t sell it. I’m adamantly against any synthetic drugs being sold anywhere, and it will not be sold here.”