North Branch City Council has taken action against two tobacco businesses for violating city ordinances.

North Branch Police Chief Dan Meyer explained during the council meeting June 22 that his department has been having issues with Cloud X Vapes, a tobacco and e-cigarette business located at 5842 Old Main St., Suite 1.

On Jan. 13, 2019, William Shocinski, owner of the business, applied for a tobacco license, which the city refused to approve.

“A background check conducted in regards to this application showed that Shocinski was convicted of a prior drug offense, which the city could use as a basis for license denial,” Meyer said, adding that Shocinski’s girlfriend, Courtney James, submitted another tobacco license application for the business, which the city approved on Jan. 22, 2019.

In June 2019, the business failed a compliance check due to selling tobacco products to minors. As part of the Minnesota Department of Human Services “Congratulate and Educate” grant project, the North Branch Police Department offered educational materials to the business. In August, it passed the tobacco compliance.

In April 2020 the business wasn’t complying with Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 executive order, and it received a warning from the Police Department. The department cited it for violating the executive orders for the third time on July 21, 2020, Meyer said.

Between February and December 2020, the Police Department received eight complaints from individuals reporting that Cloud X Vapes was selling tobacco products to minors, Meyer said. The Police Department met virtually with James in early January 2021 to discuss the complaints. James explained that the business would retrain its employees.

After meeting with James, Meyer received an additional complaint, he said.

“I did send an exchange of emails regarding when we received that complaint,” Meyer said. “I didn’t hear anything back from her. We received a second complaint, and with the cooperation of one of the parents, we were able to investigate that and determine that the business did, in fact, sell to a minor.”

So the Police Department issued an administrative fine per the city ordinance of $200, Meyer said. On May 7, the department conducted another tobacco compliance check, and the Cloud X Vapes failed, so it was fined $500.

“Our officer who conducted the compliance check also noted that the business did not have proper signage to indicate that individuals under the age of 21 were not allowed to enter the establishment,” Meyer said. He explained that his department observed several minors inside Cloud X Vapes during the compliance check.

“We did give the license holder ... notice of the violation by a certified letter, which was served to her on May 17,” he said. “And she has not paid the fine. She has not contacted me as well. We did receive a call today from somebody inquiring about the fine and they advised they were going to send the check in the mail. They did try to pay by credit card, but it didn’t work. So we’re hopeful that they’re going to pay the fine.”

“First of all, there is a history, as Council Member (Amanda) Darwin has said, with Buffalo, with Forest Lake,” North Branch Mayor Jim Swenson said. “They’ve finally paid the first one, they have not paid their next fine. They’re not here tonight. So I don’t know what that is saying for businesses. I want to be supportive of our businesses and our community, but I’m hearing it from the council, from what every one of us that we’re not happy with how this operation is going. So and obviously selling to underage kids is not a good thing.”

The council unanimously approved Meyer’s request to revoke the business’s 2021 tobacco license. Meyer also asked the council to consider not renewing their 2022 license.

E-Cig Guys

E-Cig Guys, another tobacco and e-cigarette business located at 6118 Main St., Suite B, failed a compliance check on July 24, 2020, due to selling tobacco products to minors, Meyer said. The business was issued an administrative fine of $200, and the clerk, who sold to the minor, was fined $100.

In February 2021, the Police Department investigated a complaint from a resident that the business was selling tobacco products to their underage daughter. So the department fined the business $500.

“During our investigation we developed probable cause to believe the underage sale took place,” Meyer said.

On May 7, the business failed another compliance check due to the same offense by the same clerk, he added. The clerk was fined $200 for the second violation within 12 months. Altogether, the business violated the city ordinance three times.

“Our city ordinance does state that the city may permanently revoke the tobacco license for three violations within 12 months,” Meyer explained.

The license holder for and co-owner of E-Cig Guys, Josef Kranavek, was present during the council meeting. He assured the council that the violating clerk no longer works for the business.

“Since the business has paid their administrative fines and have taken corrective action, it is my recommendation that the city council does not revoke the business’s tobacco license at this time,” Meyer proposed. “The Police Department would continue to conduct tobacco compliance checks and document any complaints. If there are further problems at the business, I would bring our concerns back to the city council.”

Council Member Kelly Neider said she appreciated Kranavek for being present during the council meeting.

“It shows initiative to potentially make some changes,” she said. “I’m fine with allowing him to continue his business here in North branch under the guidelines that Chief Meyer has set forward, and according to our ordinances, so I will make a motion to continue allowing him to continue to operate his business.”

The council approved a motion to allow E-Cig Guys continue operating with the condition that if they violated again, they could have their tobacco license revoked.

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