BELLOWS FALLS -- A controversial retail store in the village has gone out of business, but the reason it had to close its doors remains unclear.
Jennifer Cole-Dawson, former owner of Mama Jenn’s Novelties, said she shut down the shop at 2 Atkinson St. about three weeks ago. The business was a head shop, meaning it sold paraphernalia used for the consumption of tobacco or drugs, and other items.
Cole-Dawson said the problems stem from the store’s previous owner, who said Cole-Dawson has it backward.
Cole-Dawson said she took over the business, formerly known as Mad Hatter Novelty, from its previous owner in January and was going to make payments to reimburse him for his initial $3,500 investment. But she said the previous owner, who requested not to be identified, caused problems from the start by leaving behind $5,600 in unpaid bills.
The previous owner told the Reformer that the bills Cole-Dawson was referring to pertained to the store’s overhead, or cost of operation, and neglected her responsibility to pay them. He said Cole-Dawson refused to pay any of the $3,500 she agreed to and the display cases still in the building belong to him.
The store had been controversial in Bellows Falls because of the merchandise it carried. Until earlier this year, "synthetic marijuana" had been part of its inventory. Chad Simmons from the Greater Falls Prevention Coalition, which aims to steer young people away from the influences of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, previously described synthetic marijuana as herbs with chemicals sprayed onto them.
At a segment of the Teen Brain Development event held at the Rockingham Free Public Library in April, Bellows Falls Police Chief Ron Lake said his department had received a call from someone in Brattleboro regarding incense and synthetic pot being sold at 2 Atkinson St. Lake and Lt. Shane Harris visited the shop and were provided with a sample of everything in the store. Lake said he sent the materials to the state laboratory because he does not have a test kit for substances like synthetic cannabis.
"Everything they provided us was illegal," he said in April. Lake said members of the department immediately went down to Mama Jenn’s packaged up all the illegal materials and confiscated them.
Cole-Dawson, who was the manager of the Mad Hatter before taking over the business and changing the name to Mama Jenn’s, said the synthetic marijuana had been left over from the previous owner and she personally called the police to come investigate the material. She told the Reformer she called the authorities and cooperated with them because she has learned about the dangers of synthetic marijuana. The previous owner said part of the reason he left the business is because he did not want to be associated with the stuff.
Though he is upset with the way the business folded, Cole-Dawson said she is glad it closed.
"It ends a lot of controversy in town," she said. "It ends a lot of [expletive]. It was an experience that I wouldn’t trade in, but it’s not something I would do again."
She said she also works as a housekeeper at private residences.
Simmons told the Reformer the GFPC had made contact with Cole-Dawson and found her to be "energetic, authentic and genuinely concerned for the well-being of area youth."
He said the GFPC frowns upon the items sold in the store but its members admired how she voluntarily removed all the merchandise in question.
"We were pleased with the store’s response and optimistic they would work with us in the future," he said in an e-mail. "Obviously, it is frustrating to see any business fold in the village. We hope they are able to find another calling and add to the strength and vibrancy of our community."
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.