From behind the well-stocked glass counters at the Ra Shop (758M E. I-10 Service Road, Slidell, 985-649-7262; 2198 Florida St.,Mandeville, 985-674-1644; 3812 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 889-8436; www.rashop.us), Amanda Matranga, manager at the Metairie store, unearths a slender, black cigarette holder.
"This would be a great Halloween piece," she tells a customer. "Especially if you were going as Cruella de Vil."
Costume accessories aren't something you would expect to find at a store that's known for its wide selection of water pipes, aromatic incense and detox products, but Matranga is quick to mention the Ra Shop carries "something for everybody."
"We have lots of unique items," she says, pointing to a Venus Flytrap terrarium and a zombie-shaped pillow complete with oozing brains. "Stuff you wouldn't find at Walmart."
The shop's 960 square feet house a vast and diverse array of merchandise, including cigars, swords, wind chimes, electric cigarettes, locally made candles, pool sticks, bulk herbs, tie-dyed dresses, silver jewelry and lots of tobacco pipes.
"I'd estimate we have 3,000 to 4,000 pipes in this store alone," Matranga says.
Not surprisingly, owner Louie Bettencourtt has plans to expand the Metairie location. A licensed herbalist, Bettencourtt says he opened the first Ra Shop in Mandeville 13 years ago with the intention of providing Louisiana with a "natural-type, laid-back hippie place." The response from the alternative smoking market was huge, and today there are six bright yellow Ra Shops in Louisiana and Mississippi. "We do have expansion plans in the Metairie area and Gulf South region," Bettencourtt says.
Matranga credits the good merchandise and friendly service for the Ra Shop's success. "We have a rabid selection of customers, and they are very enthusiastic about us," she laughs. "It can get crazy."