A cosy little store on Bank Street in the Glebe that for years sold yarn and thread could soon be transformed into a pot boutique called Ouid.
That’s pronounced weed.
The former Yarn Forward & Sew-On store is one of at least eight locations across the city that have been leased by companies hoping to set up cannabis shops.
This is just the beginning. The province has said it won’t limit the number of licences for privately-run cannabis stores that will start opening in April. Officials have estimated there could be 500 to 1,000 stores across Ontario, so Ottawa could conceivably have a few dozen.
Unless the city decides not to allow any shops — a possibility that entrepreneurs are gambling is unlikely. Municipalities have until Jan. 22 to opt out of cannabis stores, a course of action that is not supported by Mayor Jim Watson and does not appear to have traction among councillors, either.
Postmedia has identified three companies planning multiple shops in the province that have already leased storefronts in Ottawa.
The company behind Ouid has leased three:
581 Bank St., just south of the Queensway in the Glebe;
362 Richmond Rd. in Westboro, near Mountain Equipment Co-op;
and 258 Elgin St., between Somerset Street West and Cooper Street.
Ouid officials are looking for locations in Kanata and Barrhaven. The plan is to open four to six stores in Ottawa and about 20 across the province.
Ouid stores won’t be anything like a stereotypical “dark, tie-dyed, black lit, incense smelling” head shop, promises spokesperson Niel Marotta.
Expect a cross between a jewelry store and a women’s fashion boutique, with a bright, airy feel, he said. “Attractive, friendly, inviting, inclusive.”
A Calgary company creating a chain of cannabis shops called Spiritleaf has also moved into town. It has secured four storefronts in Ottawa, one of them in Bells Corners, said Darren Bondar, chief executive of parent company Inner Spirit Holdings. He declined to name the locations.
Spiritleaf outlets are now open in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and are planned for B.C. The company plans a “full court press” in Ontario, said Bondar. The goal is to open 75, the maximum number of stores allowed any one operator under Ontario regulations.
Spiritleaf stores feature a lounge area that promotes Up cannabis, the brand connected with the Tragically Hip.
The stigma created by illegal dispensaries is disappearing as legal stores open, he said. “The cannabis companies that are moving into the market, the stores are unbelievable.
“We’ve built stores that are operating in some community malls, we’re right next to an organic grocery store and a bank and we fit right in. You can come in and you are shopping at a high-end boutique where we are selling cannabis.”
People quickly realize it’s “just regular retail, if not elevated retail,” he said.
“Now that people are going in and out of our stores, it’s becoming a non-conversation. In fact, we are getting tons of positive reviews from landlords and communities that were otherwise concerned, and rightfully so, to realize OK, there is a positive to this. This is the way it’s going to be brought legal and change the stigma.”
The company has received about 500 applications to operate Spiritleaf franchise stores in Ontario, said Bondar. “There’s a lot of buzz around the cannabis industry.”
Inner Spirit Holdings negotiates the leases with landlords and provides a standard design, training and logistical help, but the stores will be independently owned and operated by franchise holders who know their communities, he said.
Another company opening stores and applying for licences in western Canada, High Tide Inc., has rented a storefront in Westboro. The plan is to open a store that is expected to operate under the Canna Cabana name, said spokesperson Jason Kostiw. He declined to identify the location.
High Tide Ventures is looking for other spaces to lease in Ottawa, he said. The company also hopes to open the maximum of 75 stores in Ontario.