Lane County's long-thriving community of pipe-making glass workers is in
fear and disarray following last month's federal crackdown on online sales
of drug paraphernalia.

Federal agents arrested Eugene glass artists Saeed Mohtadi and Jason Harris,
president of Jerome Baker Designs Inc., which sold a line of colorful glass
bongs and other pipes that can be used for smoking tobacco - or marijuana.

People who supplied materials to Jerome Baker Designs, or blew glass for the
company, estimate that at least 50 full-time workers lost their jobs with
the shutdown of the business. They say hundreds of other local pipe makers
are out of work because distributors and retailers they supplied nationwide
have closed or have stopped buying inventory for fear of arrest.

Misha Gieseler, co-owner of Eugene Rain, a Springfield pipe-making business,
said 12 of the stores she supplied pipes to nationwide were visited by
federal agents; eight store owners were charged and four stores shut down.

Gieseler, 28, said she and her husband, Matt, have made a living blowing
glass pipes for the past six years. Their combined annual income from the
pipe business averages $30,000 to $40,000, Gieseler said, adding that they
pay income taxes each year.

Gieseler said she hasn't made any pipes since last week's sweep.

"Here I am scared to make pipes, and that's how I make my living," she said.
"It's not worth going to jail over it, but I do have two kids to feed." The
Gieselers have a 4-year-old and an 18-month-old.

"We've got car payments and a house payment, and all of a sudden there's a
stop of income," she said.
Gieseler said she's not sure what she'll do to replace the income. "We're
resorting to making glass dildos - I can't even say the word it's so
embarrassing," she said. "I've never wanted to go that route."

Other glass makers say they'll find other ways to sell pipes.

"I'm just going to blow as much glass as I can and sell them on the street
if I have to; I still have to feed my family," said Mikael Thomas, 34, of
Eugene, who has blown glass for about five years.

He said he makes wine glasses, marbles, beads, art objects and pipes. By far
the biggest sellers are pipes.
"I have a piece in about every head shop in town," he said.

The federal action also is affecting sales at local shops that supply
products related to glass blowing.

Craig Hamilton, owner of Phoenix Glass and a glass blower for the past eight
years, said his supply sales have plunged since last week.

Along with selling borosilicate, Pyrex, glass and glass-blowing tools,
Hamilton's store had a display case with 100 to 200 pipes, worth about
$2,000 to $3,000. He made some himself, but most he accepted in trade from
pipe makers in exchange for materials.

Hamilton said he cleared out the case on the day of the crackdown and is
keeping the pipes in storage until he knows whether he can safely resume
selling them.

Hamilton has sold the pipes as tobacco-related accessories and he said he
always checks customers' identification to make sure they are at least 18,
as required by state law.

"I've got thousands of dollars' worth of pipes, but I don't want them
confiscated," Hamilton said.

The pipe-making industry is big because there's big demand, Hamilton said.
"People can make perfume bottles and jewelry, but they're just not as
sellable," he said.

Most glass pipes are the quintessential low-price, high-volume product. They
generally wholesale for $5 to $20 and can retail for double or triple that,
glass blowers said.

Jerome Baker Designs offered more elaborate and expensive pipes. The
business recorded $2.2 million in sales in 1999, according to a search
warrant affidavit filed by the Drug Enforcement Administration. A DEA agent
ordered several pipes and bongs from the company, ranging from $95 to $230
apiece, according to the affidavit.

The federal arrests were the latest in a history of drives to stamp out drug
paraphernalia. But some call it a minor setback.

"They slap some hands and they say, 'Kids ... ' then business goes on as
usual," said a glass studio owner who asked to remain anonymous for fear of
reprisal.

"It's not like you can take out an industry by taking out a few
figureheads," he said. "Other people will pop up to fill their place.
There's the same demand as there was before, with millions of dollars less
of supply."

Kyle Thompson, a Eugene glass blower who makes marbles, vases, jewelry,
paperweights and pipes, said his orders for pipes have increased since last
week.

"It appears that they were targeting the big shops that were effective at
marketing," he said. "It's going to be really hard for the government to
stop all the small operations."

Eugene has an international reputation for glass blowing. There are an
estimated 700 to 1,200 glass blowers in Lane County, said George Kjaer,
president of the board of the Eugene Glass School, which was founded in
1999. That figure includes hobbyists making beads or marbles in their
garage, as well as people who earn a living making pipes.

The industry's roots in Eugene date to the early 1970s when followers of the
Grateful Dead figured they could make money selling blown glass bongs and
pipes, as well as decorative glass, at Grateful Dead concerts and similar
venues, Kjaer said.

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, several glass teachers lived in Eugene
and shared their knowledge, attracting more glass blowers to town, Kjaer
said.

In 1995, several entrepreneurs set up factories, employing 10 to 20 people
each, to mass produce bong parts, he said.

For years, Eugene's reputation for glass was linked primarily to bongs and
pipes, Kjaer said. But the Eugene Glass School aims to change that. Each
year about 100 students take workshops at the school from established
artists from around the world. An upcoming workshop will focus on
utilitarian objects, such as cups, glasses, coffeepots, jewelry,
paperweights and fountain pens.


Pubdate: Sun, 09 Mar 2003
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2003 The Register-Guard
Contact: rgletters@guardnet.com
Website: http://www.registerguard.com/