Cover Story: Smoke This

Store owner gets R-E-S-P-E-C-T

May 9, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Lisa Bialac

Amy Steffen's back is rarely ever against the wall.

Amy Steffen is an easy-going giggler. Despite her grassroots successes, the owner of The Smoke Shop in Clifton, Hemptations in O'Bryonville and Hemptations Too in Pierce Township doesn't feel all that powerful.

And for such a driven and successful woman, Steffen isn't what you'd expect. Indeed, she's fairly humble.

But consider this: Here's a woman who dreamed up and opened her first store in one year, peaking at seven stores in a matter of a few years.

Steffen, a Mount Washington native, was inspired to start her business in 1994 by her then-boyfriend, who introduced her to The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer's revealing book on marijuana and hemp cover-ups by the government. Always environmentally conscious, Steffen challenged herself to open a store that offered hemp products within a year.

After months of preparation — including stashing merchandise in her own basement prior to opening — she met her goal, opening the store one year to the day.

Now the owner of three flourishing locations, she admits there were sacrifices. As a single mother of three, socializing took a back seat to making time for her children. It's a seemingly obvious choice to some but an often self-sacrificial one to countless working mothers.

She's now closed the gap on that sacrifice, though. Her children are often with her in the store.

Partner and co-worker Kathy Singer says that, aside from Steffen's strength to survive the times she's been taken advantage of, she has brought a lot of good things to Cincinnati, including the water pipe (known to reduce carcinogens), the Hemptations chain and, naturally, the money.

Still, Steffen remains modest. Power to her isn't money or property. Rather, it's something more personal.

"In this business, it's hard to get respect," Steffen says, referring to everyone from other parents to the corporate infrastructure.

That is, from everyone but the bank.