Pity the Poor Bodega Cigarette Man

Upon closer inspection of the shelves, he noticed that the rear wall stopped short, a couple of inches from the other side, suggesting a gap in between. He peered lower. There was a pinpoint hole in the rear wall. Below it, a toothpick lay on the shelf. Deputy Davis, 43, stuck the toothpick in the hole.

The toothpick pressed a hidden button that released a large magnet that kept a secret compartment locked. Deputy Davis lifted the front of the row of shelves like you would the trunk of a small car, and inside were rows and rows, all different brands, of contraband. Not narcotics or pills, but unopened packs of cigarettes, perfectly legal in the state in which they were bought, but not here. Hence the secret compartment.

You might be wondering: How much are cigarettes from state to state, such that bodegas — forty-eight percent of those inspected by police — stock illegal cigarettes as a matter of course?

What a marvelous excuse to highlight the Awl’s annual state-by-state cigarette price index. As the Awl’s summer intern discovered a couple months ago, Virginia, where most of the contraband cigarettes seem to come from, sits squarely in the nexus of close and cheap, at $5.25 a pack, making it tied with Missouri for the cheapest cigarettes in the nation.

Light one up for poor Ahmed.