Shining More Light on LePage’s Smoke Screen

David Discatio shows off the grocery section of Joe's Smoke Shop.

David Discatio shows off the grocery section of Joe’s Smoke Shop.

Two days ago Governor LePage came out with a statement riddled with half truths and outright lies targeting EBT transactions that take place in Maine smoke shops.

I published an article yesterday entitled “LePage the Con Man”, and after seeing the great response I went over to Joe’s Smoke Shop on Congress Street to talk to the owners, the Discatio brothers, and do a little more investigating.

The results that I have prove that LePage’s comments were either thoughtless, dishonest, or both because it shows that “smoke shop” is just a different way of saying “convenience store”.

The Discatio family has owned and operated Joe’s Smoke Shop for three generations. Mike Discatio, one of the brothers who runs the place now, said that his grandfather opened shop in 1945. He said back then sales were much more concentrated on tobacco products, but that nowadays they do mostly food sales.

Steve Discatio said as soon as LePage’s comments made headlines they were getting calls from the media, “probably because it says smoke shop on our sign, and we’re right downtown.” “Grocery stores sell way more tobacco than us,” chimed brother David, “I don’t understand why we’re being targeted.”

The brothers said that they’ve thought about changing the name of their store in the past, but decided against it. David explained, “our grandfather, Joe Discatio, named the place. We sort of feel like we’re ingrained into the community. The name is part of our history, I guess we just want to hang onto it.”

Mike was kind enough to provide me with some sales numbers. To keep it simple I’ll just post the sales percentages from Wednesday of this week broken down by category of merchandise. Mike said these numbers give a good picture for an average day.

food- 52%

tobacco- 33%

magazines/newspapers- 6%

alcohol- 5%

lottery- 4%

Certainly a one day snap shot doesn’t tell the whole story, but Mike said that in the years since the beginning of the Great Recession tobacco sales have steadily dropped while overall sales have steadily climbed.

“We get a lot of people coming in here using their EBT cards to buy food. As the economy has gotten worse we’ve seen a lot less spending on frivolous stuff like cigarettes and cigars. We’re in a convenient spot because a lot of neighborhood folks don’t have cars these days. People know they can walk down here and get their essentials or a cheap bite to eat.” “Ya,” Steve jumped in with a big grin, “and they know we’ve got the best Italian in town.”

To read yesterday’s article click here-

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.