ATLANTIC CITY — Raymond Chico, of Union Beach, Monmouth County, has made a tidy business out of selling plastic test tubes to carry and protect marijuana cigarettes.
Each of his “doob tubes” is professionally lettered with a citation for the medical-marijuana statute for each state or Canadian province where the product is sold.
Chico, an engineer by trade, came up with the idea while undergoing chemotherapy five years ago.
He was prescribed medical marijuana in California. A police officer questioned him about his possession of marijuana when he attended a New Jersey sporting event.
“The officer said, ‘That’s funny, you don’t look sick to me.’ I said, ‘That’s funny, you don’t look like a doctor to me,’” he recalled.
Chico was not fined, but the incident filled him with resentment. He decided to market the test tubes to give marijuana the legitimate standing he thought it deserved.
“About 90 percent of my business is in dispensaries now,” he said.
Chico participated in this week’s counter-culture expo at the Atlantic City Convention Center, the third-annual event sponsored by Champs Trade Shows.
The show gave 180 smoke shops, tie-dye clothiers and other small retailers a chance to exchange business in this niche industry.
New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill to license dispensaries of medical marijuana in 2010.
“I don’t think we’re underground,” Chico said. “We’re right out in the open. And it’s great for the economy.”
Oddly, you won’t find any mention of marijuana at this business-to-business trade show, despite the wealth of products from bongs to roach clips geared around its use.
Participants said they have been less adversely affected by the recession than other segments of the retail business. Customers are more willing to reach into their pockets for products and clothing that suit their lifestyle.
“It’s huge, especially if you get into the clothing,” said Jeff Hirschfeld, of Sherman Oaks, Calif., president of the trade show’s sponsor, Champs.
Mike LeFevre, of Warminster, Pa., owns Gypsy Rose, a Grateful Dead-inspired wholesaler for free-trade textiles from Nepal and Guatemala. He sells his colorful shirts, dresses, handbags and scarves to 40 stores from Cape May to Atlantic City to Asbury Park.
“They’re all handmade products so no two are the same,” LeFevre said. “We’ve been in business 25 years. The trade show has been big for us.”
The show, which wraps up today, features unique glasswork and a contest called Glass Games to pick the best artists.
Artist and show judge Tammy Ball, of Troy, N.Y., said her blown-glass business has been strong despite cutbacks she has witnessed in other parts of the art world.
“This industry always has money. Other industries flex with the economy,” she said. “Even in the recession, I’m selling a lot more.”
Ball said she is inspired by pop culture, adding characters from “Family Guy” to her detailed decorations or coming up with vivid figures from nature such as birds and wind chimes or squirrels guarding their cache of acorns.
She employs the same techniques with her sculptures that South Jersey’s glass industry uses for lab glass. But unlike companies that make lab glass to exacting standards, Ball said she is free to use glass based on its color or chemical composition.
Some pieces are easier than others.
“I get lots of orders for wedding-cake toppers and Christmas ornaments,” she said. “Sometimes the glass gods are not pleased. We have our battles daily.”
Contact Michael Miller: