A snapshot of an e-cig seller’s double life


Jason Noble, owner of Groove-E-Juice in Downtown Kent

Mark Oprea

Walking into electronic cigarette shop Groove-E-Juice is akin to stepping into a lava lamp. Mugshots of famous rockers are plastered on a Day-Glo-colored wall under a giant Jimi Hendrix mural. Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” plays over the PA. Regulars — known as “vapers” — rush in to try out flavors, like Witches Brew and S’moregasm, while smoke rises from their mouths, clouding the space.

“It’s every party room I’ve had since college,” owner Jason Noble said, “which I’ve retired and brought back to life.”

It’s also something else: one of Noble’s arts.

Since 2003, Noble has been living a strenuous double life, as a photographer as an and avid businessman. He has spent nearly two decades profiting off his photography while finding room along the way for fine art. Since he opened Groove-E-Juice above the Pufferbelly in Kent, he has divided up his time between mixing “juice” and shooting senior portraits. It’s only in the past few months that his now-lucrative business has begun to stand on its own two legs.

Noble owes his latest creation to two qualities that seem to run throughout most, if not all, of his work: artistry and out-of-the-box thinking. Instead of importing flavors like the many e-cig shops that have sprung up statewide, he mixes his own. A concept like Groove-E-Juice, he said, couldn’t have stemmed without it.

The idea came to Noble on an out-of-state fashion shoot in 2008. Shooting runway models indoors for up to 16 hours a day meant no traditional cigarettes, so Noble tried e-cigs, which were relatively new in the U.S. at the time.

A close friend opened him up to more flavors. Noble delved more into e-cig culture and soon into the business end.

Dissatisfied with Chinese-made juice, Noble realized he could take the task into his own hands. He took $500 in insurance payoff and ran with the concept.

“I said to myself, ‘I bet I could make money selling electronic cigarettes, but first and foremost, making juices and blends that nobody has seen before — stuff that didn’t exist,’” Noble said.

His make-it-new spirit, however, isn’t anything recent.

Operating Noble Images for 12 years, Noble and his wife Danielle gradually labored to the top of Northeast Ohio photo circles. The Warren native began his career as the sole staff photographer for Marietta College’s The Olio, shooting friends’ senior portraits and student theater in between.

Although he obsessed over landscape and fine art photography as a senior, his aspirations came to an abrupt halt after graduation. It’s when Noble’s economical art took over — along with a difficult balance.

“I had to split myself because the term ‘starving artist’ is so true,” he said. “You want to create art, and then you find there’s not a big market for it. I can create something amazing, but I can’t pay the bills with it.”

Yet a plunge into corporate photography didn’t divert Noble’s creativity; it just tampered with it. Making a move from Warren to Cuyahoga Falls, along with meeting and marrying his wife, led to an expansion of Noble Images and its aspiration to “redefine photography.”

Along with making a name as star photographer couple — head-to-head with Cleveland’s Nislys — the two hired a full staff to accommodate in-house edits and studio maintenance.

For the ambitious Noble, “redefinition” meant everything from heading a fashion shoot at Shawshank to leg-breaking wedding gigs on weekends — making it new in any and every way possible.

It was also a must to pay the rent. Even when monotony kicked in.

“You have to shoot the weddings, you have to shoot the senior portraits, you have to shoot the screaming babies,” Noble said. “And yes, there were a lot of screaming babies.”

And the 50 wedding shoots a year and the late-night photoshopping of infants paid off.

Noble climbed the “Top 5” Ohio photographers list rapidly come 2005. Two years later, in 2007, Noble and his wife were awarded the best photo studio in Northeast Ohio from Cleveland’s FOX station, beating more than 100 other competitors state-wide. The prosperity even encouraged Noble to travel internationally, spending a week in Mexico, another in Kingston, Jamaica, and displaying these prints in his own in-house gallery.

Nobles Images was now open to the world.

Come 2008, the nationwide recession tore the rug from under the photography market. Photographers began stressing quantity over quality in defense, and more so to survive. With many “Weekend Warriors” — what Noble calls the amateurish shooters — opting to capture their own grad parties and baby showers, Noble Images, one of the most reputable photo studios in Ohio, took a nose dive that seemed unrecoverable. His wife took up a corporate job on the rebound, and the two moved to Brimfield, Ohio in 2010, along with their studio to Kent. Noble even considered a part-time job at Jimmy John’s to make up for the slack.

He wouldn’t have to: Groove-E-Juice was soon born. In just two years since the apparent downfall of the photo studio, Noble was able to lean majorly on e-cig sales and his own nicotine brews. Although his e-cig business has been operating since then, it’s only since late 2014 that Noble has been stable on manufacturing vaping liquid and selling drip tips, with help from a full staff. Suddenly, tiring wedding shoots turned into late-night flavor experimentation; designing portrait graphics transformed into label design. A new art replaced the old — and Noble was grateful for a change.

“It’s kind of nice not to have to shoot a screaming baby,” he said.

As Noble Images continues to lose its initial need in its founder’s life, the esteemed photographer is almost eagerly awaiting its full-on deflation. He’s already preparing another studio relocation and downsize, while happily turning down shoots right and left in the meantime.

Once Groove-E-Juice, he said, sheds its “growing pains,” Noble is ready again to traverse the world — to the pyramids in Giza, the hill-towns of Italy — and rekindle an old aspiration.

Or to put it in Noble terms: redefinition.

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected].