Day one for pot shopping might come a bit later than April 1, but when Sudbury’s two cannabis retailers do flip the signs on their doors to read “open,” they are anticipating a flood of patrons.
“If it’s anything like Alberta, there were four-hour lineups,” said Eddie Grinberg, spokesperson for the Highlife outlet taking shape in a former shoe store at the Silver Hills complex. “So we’ve geared up for that and we’re going to have 27 points of sale.”
Grinberg said there will also be licensed producers in the parking lot to provide information to customers who might have to wait a bit before getting in.
“We’re definitely expecting crowds,” he said.
That stampede won’t happen, however, until Friday of next week at the earliest.
Both Highlife and Canna Cabana, a similar business poised to open at the Four Corners, have now completed a stage for public input required of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, but each is still awaiting formal licensing.
“We’re busy getting ready but there’s still some bureaucracy on the government side, so we’re not likely to open April 1,” said Grinberg. “It’s looking more like April 5 now.”
Even that date is tentative, however, as it presumes the commission keeps “moving at the pace they’ve been moving,” said Grinberg. “There are numerous checks and they have third parties to do due diligence, which is requiring documentation, proof and all kinds of other things.”
Nick Kuzyk of High Tide, an Alberta-based company, said the south-end Canna Cabana store is on track for an April opening, but it could be a couple weeks yet before the big day occurs.
“My project manager is very busy, working day and night to get this ready as close to April 1 as possible, but if it’s a week or two later, that will be OK,” he said. “Opening a store like this takes a lot of work. There’s a lot of moving parts — there’s the municipal part of the process along with the provincial part, and then there’s contractors, hiring, training.”
A group called Saturninus Partners, based in southern Ontario, won the right through a provincial lottery to operate the store, but engaged High Tide to use its Canna Cabana brand and model.
“Saturninus Partners are in control of the store, but we are helping them out,” said Kuzyk. “They obviously travel to Sudbury from time to time and won the location in the North region there. Together we decided Sudbury, being the largest city in the region, would be a good home for the store.”
Kuzyk said his company counts 10 Canna Cabanas in Alberta, four of which now sell cannabis. The other six sell marijuana accessories, but will likely add pot products once more licences are available.
“We’ve developed this brand and concept over the last year and launched it shortly after legalization,” he said. “So far it’s going fairly well for us in Alberta and we’re excited to bring the concept to Ontario.”
He said his company has a decade of experience in the area, as prior to legalization it was already “interacting with cannabis enthusiasts” through its Smokers Corner accessory outlets.
So while the new Canna Cabana may not be the first pot shop to open in Ontario, or even Sudbury, “we feel we have a head start and a leg up on the competition through the data we have and the customer relations we have built,” he said.
Two other successful applicants for Ontario retail shops — in Toronto and Hamilton — have also decided to use the Canna Cabana formula.
“Three winners canvassed the field and we’ve been lucky to be selected to roll the concept out in three Ontario cities,” Kuzyk said. “At the end of the day it’s about bringing something to the retail landscape that’s good for the consumer and sensitive to vulnerability among young people, and will also do its best to make an impact on the black market. And if we can do all those things, I think the province will be happy.”
Grinberg said Highlife is opening 17 stores in Ontario, but the other 16 are all in southern Ontario and none can yet sell pot.
“As the supply becomes more readily available, they will issue more licences,” he said. “But at the moment, the store in Sudbury is the only one with cannabis in it. We’re in the building stages of the others, but Sudbury is the flagship location right now.”
Highlife has an agreement with Anton Lucic, the successful lottery applicant, to run the Silver Hills store on his behalf, Grinberg said.
“He’s not in a position to run an operation like this, so we are helping him,” he said. “He would be the operator of the store, but we licensed him the name, the system and the operation.”
He said he’s excited about the opportunity to share the Highlife experience with Sudbury customers, as well as work with the community through outreach and education.
“We’re talking to Big Brothers and Big Sisters about providing information and having discussions with kids about drugs,” he said. “We’ll be doing more cannabis education, too — in terms of what does it do, what are the effects — and will have some guest speakers.”
Grinberg said only a half-dozen concerns were raised through the public feedback process, and none was deemed significant by the AGCO.
“That’s come and gone and we understand it to be all fine,” he said. “The negative comments they had are non-applicable to what the AGCO is looking at.”
A couple of people questioned the pot store’s proximity to the SilverCity movie complex, for instance, but “the LCBO is actually 68 metres closer to their door than we are,” noted Grinberg. “And our rules are more stringent than the LCBO’s — for instance, you can’t walk into our store with your child.”
Apart from providing a coveted service, Grinberg said Highlife will also be a significant employer.
“We’ve hired 41 employees so far locally,” he noted, almost half of whom will be full-time workers.
Staff members are required to complete CannSell training — similar to Smart Serve, for alcohol — and can provide knowledgeable guidance for those who are relatively new to marijuana. Those who have a pretty good idea what they are looking for already can expedite their purchase by “ordering on an iPad and going through an express line,” he noted.
The store will be open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Written by: Jim Moodie
Source: The Sudbury Star