Attempt to save Mac’s fizzles out; council approves anti-tobacco law

Mac's Smoke Shop, 534 Emerson St., opened in 1934. Post photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

An attempt by three Palo Alto council members today (June 16) to save the iconic Mac’s Smoke Shop at 534 Emerson St. in downtown was snuffed out by the other four council members.

The shop has been around for 85 years and could very well close as a result of the vote last night banning the sale of vaping products and flavored tobacco in town.

The ordinance to ban those products had been approved May 20, but it required two votes, or readings, to become law.

Tonight was the second reading and council members Alison Cormack, Eric Filseth, Lydia Kou and Greg Tanaka voted for the ban while Lis Kniss, Adrian Fine and Tom DuBois voted against it.

That was the same vote as on the first reading May 20. There had been speculation that one of the four who voted for the ordinance might switch their vote tonight but that didn’t happen.

Kniss had proposed an alternative ordinance that would have allowed for the sale of flavored tobacco items such as cigar, pipe and chewing tobacco in adult-only stores and allow for the onsite consumption of flavored tobacco at permitted businesses, as as Hookah Nites Lounge at 235 University Ave.

Kniss’ proposal was in response to the idea that a full-on ban would prevent the closure of the five adult-only smoke shops in town. They are Mac’s, Hookah Nites, Raw Smoke Shop at 265 California Ave., Smokes and More at 3896 El Camino Real, and Smokes and Vapes at 3491 El Camino Real.

Lori Khoury, who owns Mac’s along with her husband Neil, said that between the ban and coronavirus shutdown, “you guys are going to put us to our death.”

Khoury pointed out that flavored tobacco has been around for at least 97 years, and says it’s “beyond puzzling” that flavored tobacco was never an issue before now.

The Khourys have supported a ban on selling vaping products.

Several speakers last night, including Santa Clara County Board of Education member Grace Mah, said Mac’s could simply change its business model and survive.

But Khoury said it’s not as simple as that.

However, Cormack said that allowing flavored tobacco is not consistent with having a healthy city. She pointed out that the only flavored tobacco other than the types being sold for vapes is menthol, where seven out of 10 users are African American. She also said that menthol can still be appealing to children because it cools and numbs the throat.

One resident, Karin Felsher, who is in college, said that her friends who vape like mint flavors.

Jesse Singh, who owns Smokes and More and Smokes and Vapes, asked if the city was also going to ban alcohol since it can also be flavored.

He also pointed out some inconsistency in the city’s attempt to help small businesses. On one hand, the city is closing down streets such as California Avenue and University Avenue to let restaurants open up in the streets, but on the other, are trying to shut down businesses that have never had issues with the city.

Resident Patricia Barr thought it is inconsistent that the council back bills by state Assemblyman Marc Berman and Senator Jerry Hill to ban flavored tobacco while proposing carve-outs for businesses that sell flavored tobacco in town.

The debate on banning vaping products began in December after Cormack, Tanaka and Fine brought a memo to the rest of the council asking to pass a ban on vaping devices.

The council voted on the issue first on May 20, when City Manager Ed Shikada brought a ban on vape products in stores such as 7-Eleven but had an exemption for adult-only smoke shops. The majority of Filseth, Kou, Cormack and Tanaka ended up eliminating the exemption and passed the ordinance that was affirmed today.

The council was supposed to affirm its vote on June 6, but DuBois, Fine and Kniss asked that the item be discussed tonight before the final vote.

DuBois said yesterday that it was clear the entire council wanted to ban the sale of vaping products and said the ban on flavored tobacco impinges on an adult’s personal freedom.


  1. Mac’s is no longer the charming business that some wax nostalgic about. They sell pornography and guns/ammo magazines side by side. For people who want to save Mac’s for sentimental reasons I say, go inside and have a look. While I’d like to see the facade of the building preserved, the city need not stand by a business that promotes unhealthy living in more ways than flavored tobacco.

    • OMG! We’re going to shut down a store because we don’t like the media they sell? Let’s throw the First Amendment our the window because they sell men’s magazines and magazines that show guns? Is this what Palo Alro has become? Maybe we need to demand movie theaters remove sex scenes from films? But thanks Ruth for showing us the true tendencies of a Progressive/Socialist.

      • I have been inside Macs plenty of times. They have been selling these so called porno magazines longer then I have been born. The magazines are hidden in the far back wall. You have to know where to look for them. I would think its a shame they want to shut down an institution all because the owners refuse to stop selling certain vaping cigarettes and are ignoring the ban putting their store in jeopardy. If they do get shut down the owners did to themselves. They would be still be in business if they would just stop selling certain kind of vaping cigarettes. The problem is not them selling vaping cigarettes its just that they feel the city doesn’t have the right to tell them what to sell and what not to sell. And all because of this they are risking loosing a 56 year old institution and all they have to do to stay in business is just stop selling certain vaping products. TO them its all or nothing and their choosing to play with fire all because they don’t want big brother telling them what to do. It would be a shame if Mac’s closed down all because they are ignoring the flavored vaping ban. It doesn’t have to come down to this. Guess to them selling banned products and risk being shut down is more important then their bottom line. I am surprised after all these years in business the city hasn’t shut them down for selling other stuff that would be considered dangerous. Like a smoke shop selling guns and switchblade knives along side selling a copy of the New York Times. If the city of Pal Alto shuts down Macs all because they are violating the flavored vaping van I hope the city leaders can sleep at night knowing they shut down a great money maker and the taxes the store brings in. Shame on Palo Alto if they close down Macs.If it does come to them being shut down I hope the residents of Palo Alto boycott all the local business’s in support of something that didn’t have to happen. All because macs’s refuses to stop selling flavored cigarettes. Pretty lame excuse for closing a store down.

  2. I agree with you, Ruth. The Mac’s we wax nostalgic about is not the head shop currently operating. Good riddance.

  3. Palo Alto is following the lead of many other Bay Area cities by ending the sale of flavored/menthol tobacco products that that are especially appealing to young people.

    Hookah Nights (235 University Avenue) is popular with young adults who cite hookah flavors like “Gummy Bear”.

    Hookah smoking, according to the CDC is associated with many diseases such as:

    Oral cancer
    Lung cancer
    Stomach cancer
    Cancer of the esophagus
    Reduced lung function
    and in these days of COVID-19,
    the CDC reminds us that infections may be passed to other hookah smokers by sharing a hookah mouthpiece.

    Tobacco is a dying business. It’s only new young customers that keep it alive.
    Mac’s can survive if it is willing to re-think and re-tool its product mix.

    Or Mac’s and others can just complain and blame others who actually care about the health and safety of youth in Palo Alto.

  4. Mac’s real problem is that the internet took away the magazine business and a lot of the high-end smoke business so increasingly they relied on the kind of products that attract teenagers into the store. It is a 1970s business model that won’t work in 2020 but they wanted the city to protect that model by opening up loopholes in the law just for them. There are 20+ businesses in Palo Alto with tobacco licenses and Mac’s now has to abide by the same rules as those other 20+ businesses.

  5. Article contains a grammatical error: “could simply change it’s business model…” Should be “its” the possessive, not “it’s” the contraction of “it is.”

  6. Instead of punishing adults for the misdeeds of teenagers, isn’t there another way? How about stiffer punishments for kids caught vaping in school bathrooms? Take away their Mercedes and Porsches!

  7. What good is this law if people can buy Juul in Redwood City, East PA or Mountain View? And you can order it online without an age check. This law isn’t going to do any good, and we’ll loose an historic business in the bargain.

    • I whole totally agree with you. Those porno magazines are hidden the back of the store behind Surfing Magazines. Its not like they are selling them in plain sight. If you never went to the back of the store and looked through their magazines you would never have known they were selling porno in the first place. I would think the city would shut them down for selling filth then flavored vaping cigarettes. And they have been selling these trash magazines since the store first opened up.

  8. this is a step forward toward good health, and if other cities allow vaping products, maybe they’ll see the example we’re setting and ban them. i can’t see any good coming from “electronic smoking”

  9. Ironic that the voters of this state make marijuana legal and Palo Alto makes favored tobacco illegal to sell.

  10. This is taking palo alto’s moral superiority fetish too far. When we see council do things like ban drinking straws or earmark parking spaces for EVs, I think most people snicker. They always claim that their superior morals will save the world. Most people tolerate it because it’s harmless and amusing to have such pompass people leading our city. But when they do something that takes away people’s jobs and their businesses, it’s got to stop. It’s not funny anymore.

  11. They sell people porn magazines! That’s SHOCKING!

    Who buys porn anymore? Have they never heard of the internet?

    I’ll miss Mac’s if they close, and not cause they sell porn (again: really?) but because they are one of the ONLY remaining businesses in the area that sells things residents and workers might need, rather than chichi boutiques, unaffordable restaurants, and cryotherapy clinics… smh

  12. Shhhhus! The people complaining about porn at Mac’s don’t know about that internet thingy and would be shocked to learn that you can see porn online.

  13. We should shut down all movie theaters because movies often have sex and violence. We should also ban credit and debit cards because sometimes kids steal them to buy stuff they shouldn’t.

    What nonsense. Charge the kids with using false id’s like they charge adults.
    Stop penalizing adults.

    Kids and others are smart enough to buy what they want online and/or to drive to neighboring towns. Shame on Palo Alto.

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