What’s the point of legal cannabis if you have no way to smoke it?
That’s why head shops exist, and why they have existed for over 50 years. Nowadays, some of them are rebranding as smoke shops, which is understandable — the original name likely comes from “pot heads.” On the other hand, much like DC Talk didn’t care if people called them “Jesus Freaks,” I don’t mind if people call me a pot head, though I might prefer “canna-connoisseur.”
Whatever name you use, the shops are growing in number around West Michigan. You go there for pipes, bongs, vaporizers, rolling papers, weighing scales and so much more. Whether you’re a total newbie or a seasoned veteran, if you want to smoke cannabis, you’re likely going to go to a head shop.
These stores also have a huge variety of devices, from bendy dab rigs that look like a science experiment (which isn’t too far off) to giant novelty bongs shaped like an AK-47. The latter may not be the best way to smoke cannabis, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.
While there are more shops now than ever, a few of them have been here for decades, long before legalization. That’s right, those signs that say “For tobacco use only” might not have been enough to stop people from smoking cannabis.
Shakedown Street is one of those establishments, going back nearly 30 years now. Sitting on the ever-growing Leonard Street, Shakedown is a true classic head shop. They sell jewelry, psychedelic art, clothing, home décor, incense, and of course, lots of cannabis devices and accessories. It’s trippy, yet cozy and welcoming.
Owner Rhonda Miller is the mind behind it all. Miller is a true Deadhead — a superfan of jam band The Grateful Dead, for those who don’t know — seeing them on tour well over 100 times. Hence the name Shakedown Street, which comes from the band’s 10th studio album, and is also used to describe the free-for-all vending area outside jam band shows.
While personality is certainly an important part of Shakedown, what people really care about is the quality of the products themselves.
“I am very picky about what I bring in,” Miller said. “I met my Indian importer 28 years ago on a Grateful Dead tour, and we’ve been really good friends all these years. He goes to India, and I’m the only person that he buys jewelry for. We usually have the largest stock of silver in the city, and I picked out all the clothes. I don’t just buy junk to put it on the shelves.”
The glass products may be the most important, and Shakedown doesn’t cut corners there either. Local blowers contribute to the supply, along with top-quality glass coming from a group of about 60 blowers in Asheville, North Carolina.
“We get some people who come in and go, ‘Oh, I can get this cheaper somewhere else,’ and I’m like, no you can’t. Because you’re not getting quality, you know? We like to sell quality things.”
On top of all that, what Miller really loves is creating a great space for people to come together and have fun. While legalizing cannabis hasn’t actually always helped Shakedown’s business, it’s certainly brought in a new crowd. “It’s fun, because I see all the baby boomers now smoking pot and it makes me laugh. They’re my biggest customers right now, and they make me giggle because they’re all excited like little kids.”
Looking ahead, Shakedown Street is working on building out their back lot and fixing up some things here and there, while maintaining that classic charm Grand Rapids has enjoyed for decades now. In the meantime, feel free to head there when you’re ready for some quality glassware.
“Shakedown Street really has a heart and a soul,” Miller said. “I have a remarkable staff right now. My staff is so right on. And my oldest daughter’s working there, and she’s got a lovely, sweet personality. It really has a heart, and we really love what we do.”
Local Head Shops
670 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids
West Side Smoke Shop
1349 Alpine Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
712 Bridge St. NW, Grand Rapids
901 Alpine Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
2221 Plainfield Ave. NE, Grand Rapids
Rise Smoke Shop
Juicy’s Glass Shop
520 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids
Psycle Sam’s Heady Glass
1501 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids
GR Cloud Smoke Shop
2035 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids