With terms like “social distancing”, “quarantine”, and “safer at home” orders now common parlance thanks to the Covid-19 global pandemic, it seems an odd time to forge ahead with opening new retail establishments, yet several determined cannabis companies are betting on a better future and doing just that.
Small business website “The Balance” itemizes the expenses associated with opening a storefront, which include licensing fees, rent, inventory, staffing, and equipment to name a few. To open even a small business in an inexpensive city or town can cost thousands of dollars. Factor in the extra costs retailers will have to swallow to stay within Covid-19 guidelines for reopening such as plexiglass cashier guards, protective equipment for staff, and restrictions on the number of customers allowed in the store at any one time, and the overhead becomes untenable for many current and aspiring shop owners.
Despite these factors, companies like cannabis product manufacturer Green Thumb Industries, cannabis testing laboratory Cannasafe, and cannabis retailer Canna Provisions are expanding their enterprises.
Green Thumb Industries (OTC:GTBIF) announced that it would be opening its fourth retail location in the Las Vegas, NV area on May 13, as well as the eighth store in Illinois on May 28. This makes for a total of forty-five storefronts nationwide for Green Thumb, with four new locations opening since the Covid-19 crisis began.
Green Thumb’s approach involves an emphasis on efficient curbside pick-up and delivery strategies to safeguard customer and staff safety. In a May 26 press release about the new Illinois location, Green Thumb Industries founder and chief executive Ben Kovler stated that his company has “continued to move forward through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis to provide jobs and much-needed access to well-being through the power of cannabis during these difficult times, as demonstrated by the opening of Rise Niles, our fourth opening since the crisis began.”
Cresco Labs (OTCQX:CRLBF) opened Sunnyside River North, the first Illinois adult-use dispensary in Chicago in the prestigious River North neighborhood. Sunnyside opened for adult-use cannabis sales on May 28th for online orders and in-store pick up that day through a pop-up retail experience. “We are thrilled to be opening the first adult use store in Chicago under the state’s new legislation and to provide an example of what normalized and professionalized cannabis looks like with a location in a traditional business district, a local and diverse operating team and a tremendous amount of community input and support,” said Charlie Bachtell, Cresco Labs’ CEO and Co-founder.
Cresco Labs has said it has implemented procedures system-wide to eliminate wait lines, crowding, and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic and the River North location will launch with online orders only through Sunnyside.shop. Once customers receive a text notification that their order is ready, they can check-in at the Guest Experience Center at 22 W. Hubbard to be entered into the virtual pickup queue.
Meanwhile, Cannasafe has announced the opening of three new ISO-accredited laboratories in Oregon, Florida, and Illinois to help meet the increased demand for cannabis during the pandemic. Canna Provisions has opened a new storefront in Easthampton, MA with another in nearby Holyoke slated to open shortly. Another Lee, MA location shut down due to the pandemic will also be reopening. Canna Provisions is using a quick transaction model involving ID checks, a wireless ATM card reader, and frequent sanitizing to facilitate safe customer interface while offering additional support via Zoom links and instructional videos to help customers understand the new system.
These considered moves by some of the industry’s best-known names have all of the makings of successful ventures, especially given the attention to the potential infection hazards inherent in storefront retail. Still, as demand for cannabis continues strong and companies build capacity to meet that demand, it remains to be seen whether Covid-19 and a potential “second wave” will frame a gamble on the future of in-person sales as one worth taking or not.