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Published Oct. 7, 2014

If they haven't already, vape shops are coming soon to a strip center near you.

Vape shops - those small stores selling electronic cigarettes and nicotine-laced liquid - are springing up everywhere, becoming as commonplace as nail salons and dry cleaners in many retail centers.

The reason is pretty clear. The market for electronic vapor products is expected to exceed $2 billion this year and climb to $10 billion by 2017. That's for both the disposable e-cigs sold at convenience stores and the more expensive, refillable devices sold at vape shops.

Often dubbed a "smarter alternative to smoking,'' e-cigarettes have a battery-powered heating cartridge that vaporizes the flavored liquid, producing inhalable vapor. E-cigs aren't federally regulated yet, but the Food and Drug Administration has proposed rules to ban their sale to minors and require ingredient disclosure and warning labels.

There are about 15,000 vape shops nationwide, up from 10,000 just a year ago, according to the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, an e-cigarette trade group. Among the best known locally is Largo-based Lizard Juice, which has 110 locations nationwide, both standalone and inside other stores.

VaporFi hopes to be the next. Based in Miami Lakes, the e-cigarette retailer is scouting sites and seeking franchisees to open several stores in the Tampa Bay area. It has eight locations in Florida, including kiosks at the Westfield malls in Brandon, Citrus Park and Countryside and more than a dozen in the works in Ohio, Maryland and Tennessee.

A subsidiary of International Vapor Group, VaporFi sells its own line of e-cigarettes, cartridges, batteries and other accessories. Its stores and kiosks have e-liquid tasting bars where "vapetenders'' mix flavors, from pumpkin spice latte to lemon apple candy crush - with or without nicotine. Every Friday during Happy Hour, a different mystery blend is 50 percent off.

Startup costs range from about $89,000 to $160,000 for a single store, with more expensive packages available for multi-location deals, said Gregg DeBartolo, VaporFi's director of real estate. Surprisingly, the stores look more like cellphone stores with bright lights and sleek decor than head shops with tie-dyed drapes and incense burners.

Thank the calendar for putting shoppers in a scary good mood this Halloween.

With the holiday falling on a Friday, retailers are expecting total Halloween spending to reach $7.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation's Halloween Consumer Spending Survey. That's up from $7 billion last year.

More than two-thirds of consumers will buy costumes, the most in the survey's 11-year history. And they won't forget their pets. Adults will spend $350 million dressing up kitty and pooch for the big strut down the street.

Overall, Americans will spend an average of $77.52 on costumes, candy, decorations and greeting cards, up from $75.03 last year. Notably, Pinterest will be a popular source of inspiration, with one in five people ages 18 to 34 turning to the site for costume ideas.

Still, for some consumers, the economy remains at the top of the mind. About one in five adults surveyed said the economy will impact their Halloween spending plans. About 20 percent said they will make their costumes instead of buy them. Eight percent actually admitted they won't hand out candy.

Contact Susan Thurston at or (813) 225-3110. Follow @Susan_Thurston.