The cannabis retail market is about to get awful crowded in Castlegar.
Two pot shop owners say they’re just days away from opening their stores, and a third hopes to be operating before mid-summer. A fourth should be ready by the fall.
After months of behind-the-scenes work, signs went up on three of the stores recently, announcing their locations.
“We’re a small start-up, just two people in the company, trying to do it on our own,” says Jeff Thiessen, the manager of Kootenay Cannabis.
While his location is enviable — easily visible and accessible at the top of Sherbiko Hill — there’s still a lot of work to be done to the interior of the shop. It needs a paint job inside, new flooring, and the furniture has to be installed.
“We have most of our stuff purchased, we had to get security cameras and alarms installed, and we have to set up displays, dress it up for the customers,” he says. “But we’re hopefully, ideally, opening on July 1.”
Things are a little further along down the street.
“We have passed our provincial inspection and we’re set to open,” says Audree McIvor of Cannaland, in the location of the old Arby’s on 17th Ave.. She and her husband moved to the Kootenays from Calgary to start their own stand-alone shop.
“This is our second business. We used to own a retail business in Calgary — not cannabis related — but opening any business has similarities,” she says. “We’re aiming to open in a couple of weeks, but I’m confident in saying by July 1 we will be open.”
The Spirit Leaf outlet in the Columbia Plaza is also all but ready to open, and could be selling cannabis as early as this weekend.
““We have our provincial inspection completed, and have our licence and purchase number,” says co-owner Felix Belczyk. “We will be purchasing our cannabis today, and will be open as soon as our cannabis arrives, hopefully in two or three days,” he told Castlegar News on Wednesday.
A fourth cannabis retailer, Jimmy’s Cannabis, a Saskatchewan-based chain, plans to open an outlet in the Kootenay Crossing Mall (the strip mall with Boston Pizza). However, the manager of the store says they applied for their license a little later than the others, explaining why there’s no sign of activity at their storefront.
“Because we are way down the line in Castlegar, unfortunately we are going to have to wait,” says Jeff Weaver. “But I feel we have the best location in Castlegar by far, and that’s why we are comfortable holding the space.”
Weaver’s not concerned about being the last man in.
“While customer service is important, I firmly believe when you get in the market, parking and high-traffic areas are what sets businesses apart,” he says. “And all our four locations are the best in each community we’re in.”
Finding a niche
When the four pot shops complete the inspection process and get their licenses, the real work begins. They’ll be entering a market that already has one open store — the Higher Path opened in February.
With essentially the same product for sale, buying from the same government-mandated supplier at a fixed price, the new stores are trying to figure out how to get noticed in the crowd.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s something we’re going to have to put a lot of work into,” says Kootenay Cannabis’ Thiessen. “It’s obviously important for us to be part of the community, to show we’re not just here to make some money. So we’re sponsoring a sculpture for SculptureWalk, and have adopted some streets in town to keep them clean.
“It will be important to get out there and meet the people of Castlegar, seeing what they like and understand what they want from a cannabis store,” he adds. “Because it is going to be difficult obviously to differentiate ourselves, we’re all selling the same product. But if we can sell the exact product someone is looking for all the time, that can be a good customer base.”
CannaLand is focusing on atmosphere, says McIvor.
“The first thing we wanted to do when we had this idea, was to create an environment where, I like to say, my mother-in-law would be comfortable coming to,” she says. “We want to keep away from typically what you see on TV, make it welcoming and inviting.
“And we want to have fair pricing, make sure that we are competitive in that sense. Also, we’re making sure our staff is up to date with knowledge on the different products that we carry, making sure that we’re providing great customer service.”
Belczyk, over at Spirit Leaf, agrees.
“With most businesses the key is to take care of your customer really well, have the best staff and the best knowledge, and come at it from that approach,” he says. “We are all selling a similar product, and I guess we can differentiate ourselves with our service and our accessories. We want to make sure our service is at the highest level.”
All four businesses have gone through the wringer meeting provincial and municipal requirements, and are anxious to get started. But they know when they do, the real job — trying to survive in a tight-margin, highly regulated market — is just beginning.
“We are excited to open our doors and serve the community,” says Belczyk. “At the end of the day, the market will support what it can support. And it’s up to us to ensure we service our customers.”