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E-cigarette company opening in Central Park

A Richmond-based company that makes and sells products for the growing electronic cigarette market is opening a store in Fredericksburg.

Avail Vapor has leased the 1,800-square-foot former Caribou Coffee space at 1257 Carl D. Silver Parkway in Central Park and started construction. The store will open within a few weeks, said Avail Vapor majority shareholder James Xu.

Avail makes its own liquid nicotine solution in a Richmond pharmaceutical lab. The “juice,” as Xu calls it, comes in a variety of flavors, including banana bread, mango, butterscotch and pumpkin spice.

The juice is poured into a battery-powered electronic cigarette. The act of inhaling triggers the battery and heats the liquid nicotine, leading to a vapor mist being released that evaporates within seconds. The vapor allows nicotine to be delivered without the tar, carbon monoxide and secondhand smoke of traditional tobacco cigarettes.

Xu said a bottle of the juice sells for $8 and lasts about a week or more for someone who now smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, leading to significant cost-savings.

Avail’s quality-control measures include running a lab overseen by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved chemist, doing ample testing, having sterile containers for storage and using high-quality ingredients, according to the company’s website.

Currently the FDA doesn’t regulate the e-cigarette market, which has grown into a $1.5 billion annual industry, in the same way it does with traditional tobacco. But the agency is considering whether to impose more oversight and restrictions on the market amid concerns that have been raised by numerous states as well as the general public.

Xu said he would welcome FDA oversight, saying his company is already doing a lot to regulate the product in-house.

Avail Vapor opened its first store in Richmond’s Carytown area a couple of months ago. The company plans to have 10 stores by the end of the year, mostly in Virginia, with some in Maryland. Xu sees a lot of opportunity for e-cigarettes to take a significant amount of market share from the traditional tobacco industry, whose biggest players are rolling out their own branded e-cigarette products.

“The whole industry is so new,” he said. “It has huge potential.”

Xu described Avail stores as a mix between Starbucks and Apple. The company’s products can be ordered online, but Xu said having a bricks-and-mortar presence is important for educating consumers about e-cigarettes.

The 11,400-square-foot Central Park building in which Avail Vapor will open is now fully leased.

Another Richmond-based company, the Soul Appetit restaurant, hopes to open there in mid-December. MacDoc Realty, whose principals Jeremy McCommons and Mark Doherty own the building, will open an office there early next year. The building’s other tenants are Complete Nutrition, Madison Salon and Nails 1.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405