Bong store, Bongy the mascot pulling out of Esquimalt

Fed up with what he sees as unrelenting “harassment” by Esquimalt, Bong Warehouse owner Ryan Place says he and his store’s mascot are packing up and leaving the township.

“It’s ridiculous,” Place said Tuesday after the township passed a business licence bylaw that will raise his annual business licence fee to $2,000 from $100 and introduced a bylaw designed to rein in the use of his fuzzy, bong-costumed mascot, dubbed “Bongy.”

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“By the middle of January we’ll be pulling out.”

Under the new business licence bylaw, certain types of business, including liquor sales (off-site consumption), money lenders and drug-paraphernalia sales, will be charged a licence fee of $2,000 instead of the $100 licence fee most businesses pay.

Place, owner and operator of the Bong Warehouse, in the 1300-block of Esquimalt Road, said while he will relocate, he hopes one of the other affected businesses challenges the bylaw.

“If Esquimalt gets away with that [tiered business licence fee] it sets a precedent for every small community across the country to jump on the bandwagon to over-tax specific businesses,” Place said. “I’ve had enough. We’re having a close-out sale and we’re moving to a more business-friendly district,” he said, adding that a new location has not been chosen.

But between now and the move next month Esquimalt residents can expect “Bongy” — the mascot that garnered international media attention when the municipality was skewered by American television satirist Stephen Colbert — to be busy.

Esquimalt councillors have given two readings to a bylaw that would severely limit the use of commercial mascots and are now giving the public a month to weigh in on the proposal before deciding whether to pass it.

“It’s game time. You’re going to see a lot of the bong mascot over the next few weeks. We’re going to go out with a bang,” Place said.

Esquimalt Coun. Tim Morrison, the Esquimalt councillor who has been at the forefront of the townships efforts in regard to the business licensing and the mascot regulations, said the vast majority of Esquimalt businesses will see no change with the new business licence fees.

Morrison noted the regulations in the mascot bylaw only apply to municipal property and contains a “broad list of exemptions” for mascots used by schools, sports teams and charities and in activities like parades or charitable events.

“I would say for 99.9 per cent of businesses in Esquimalt who ever use a mascot, this would not impact them because we’ve allowed for so many exemptions,” he said.

Morrison, who was one of the Esquimalt councillors Colbert poked fun at, said he’ll be happy when the issue is put to rest.

“I think we’d all love to have closure on the issue,” he said. “At the end of the day, Esquimalt is a very engaged community.”

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