Las Vegas-based cannabis company Planet 13 has decided to open its Illinois retail shop in Waukegan.
The company had considered several downtown Chicago locations, including the former Rainforest Cafe in River North, but decided on the suburbs instead. Planet 13 partnered with Chicago-area social equity applicant Frank Cowan to win one of 185 new retail licenses that recently were issued by the state of Illinois.
“We looked everywhere in the region. We were kicking a lot of tires in the city, downtown and elsewhere,” said Bob Groesbeck, co-CEO of Planet 13. “Waukegan checked the boxes: proximity to an area that’s not oversaturated, the ability to drive some traffic down from Wisconsin. There’s very supportive local government and not a lot competition because a lot of communities in the area opted out” of recreational cannabis.
“We looked at a number of locations downtown. But for whatever reason, we couldn’t make them work. There were a host of issues downtown. We were concerned about potential saturation.”
Groesbeck did not say when he expects the dispensary, in Fountain Square, will open. At 4,000 square feet, the Waukegan location will be much smaller than Planet 13 stores in Las Vegas and Orange County, Calif., which have about 25,000 square feet of retail space. “It’s going to have some pizazz and excitement,” Groesbeck says.
Because of its dense population and tourism, Chicago was expected to be the most popular destination for dispensaries once Illinois legalized recreational marijuana use. But winning zoning approval proved to be time consuming, so many cannabis companies opted for the suburbs instead.
There are more than a dozen applications for new cannabis dispensaries pending before the Zoning Board of Appeals. A handful of stores, including a shop backed by restaurant owner Phil Stefani, have received approval.
Illinois is on pace to see about $1.5 billion in weed sales this year, up about 10% from 2021. But the pace of growth has slowed, in part because of a lack of new stores. Getting new retail stores open is critical to jump-starting sales growth.