By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Smoke shop murals spark controversy
• Some find artwork objectionable
Mural VIP Smoke Shop
The murals on the walls of the VIP Smoke Shop in downtown Ceres were still being worked on Monday, but images of smoking related themes might not settle well with city officials and the community. The owner said he is willing to make changes if the city objects to the designs. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Images of the late Bob Marley taking a hit from a hookah, a cartoonish Cheech and Chong riding in a smoke-filled van and Bart Simpson spray-painting graffiti aren’t exactly the type of murals the city was envisioning when they agreed to form a murals committee in November.

The murals that have appeared on the VIP Smoke Shop at El Camino Avenue and Fifth Street in downtown Ceres have unsettled some in the community. After seeing the new artwork, City Manager Doug Dunford said the standards for murals will be addressed.

The smoke shop opened in December at the former Kent’s Cars lot and initially painted the industrial building school bus yellow with black stripes. The colors drew complaints on social media with Facebook user Kathy Robbins calling them “putrid” and comparing them to the mustard color used in the remodeled Save Mart Shopping Center.

City officials had approached one of the smoke shop partners to ask them to reconsider the bright color so a decision was made to hire artists for a mural with a black background.

“I haven’t heard anything negative,” said business owner Ahmed Baabad of the new murals. “We don’t go based by what the people say but if there is any problem or if the city doesn’t like it, we can change it or go onto something else. Whatever the city wants to do. We’re not going to go against the city.”

When Sherrill Peterson, owner of Sam’s Café across Fifth Street, saw the smoke shop being painted black she thought it would be an improvement – until the artwork was spray-painted.

“What are you gonna do?” she said. “I guess we live with it.” 

Peterson admitted that customers haven’t expressed much of a fuss to her. Lee Brandt didn’t mince words when he entered the café on Friday and said, “I think it sucks. I think it’s quite comical myself but it’s better than yellow.”

Opinions were split on the Ceres Community/Incident Feed Facebook page.

Evelyn Vazquez said: “Imagine building a gorgeous restaurant or a nice cafe only for this place to ruin it. Nobody wants to spend $50 plus on a meal to park next to this eyesore. Or have morning breakfast with family looking at this. The city hates making things nice here.”

Celia Meza Perez feels “the place still looks creepy” and Coni Goudeau commented that the building looks ghetto.

Others hold a different view. Irma Marie Hinojosa commented that the new paint is “not an eyesore anymore.”

On Monday a crew of about five – none who wanted to give their names – were still working on the art and were defensive about community criticism or about the Courier’s intent to highlight on it. “It’s a smoke shop, what do you expect?” questioned one of the artists. “You’re going to be biased, I can tell already.”

One man said the artwork was toned down from what the owners originally intended.

The new shop sells all types of products, including bongs for smoking cannabis, incense, T-shirts, cigarettes, CBD products and other paraphernalia. It is not, however, a cannabis dispensary.

In November the Ceres City Council voted 3-2 to form an ad hoc committee to explore the idea of  encouraging the painting of murals at various locations to reflect the history and culture of the Ceres community.

Bart Simpson on wall mural
Murals on the walls of the VIP Smoke Shop – which feature Cheech & Chong and Bart Simpson – may be addressed by city officials who want to define standards on commercial buildings. - photo by Jeff Benziger
Bob Marley on mural
Bob Marley depicted smoking on the wall of VIP Smoke Shop. - photo by Jeff Benziger