This story was reprinted with permission from Crain’s New York and written by Eddie Small.
Marijuana had never been a big part of Brooklyn native Sasha Nutgent’s life. She hadn’t tried the drug before this year and was focused on her musical ambitions growing up, even getting signed to a record label at one point before deciding she was too shy for a pop star’s life.
So her new role running one of the city’s recently opened recreational cannabis stores is still a little hard for her to comprehend.
“I never saw myself working in this industry, and I think that I don’t even know how I got here,” she said. “It floors me every day.”
Nutgent works as the store manager at Housing Works Cannabis Co., which opened to great fanfare on Astor Place in Greenwich Village at the very end of 2022, becoming the first recreational dispensary in the city. Its arrival came a little less than two years after New York joined the growing number of states to have legalized the drug. Despite her initial lack of familiarity with weed, Nutgent has embraced her new job and particularly enjoys serving the diverse array of customers that patronize the store.
These range from locals to tourists to the occasional celebrity, such as former “Late Night With David Letterman” band leader Paul Shaffer, she said. At the store’s grand opening, Nutgent recalled, she saw one man wearing a hard hat decked out with spots for a bong on either side waiting in line next to someone who looked like he had just gotten off work from his corporate job, a stark juxtaposition that made her quite happy.
“That just made me smile,” she said, “to see people from different walks of life just truly enjoy what we sell and have something in common.”
Nutgent has a background in retail and had spent about seven years working at other Housing Works stores, starting in 2015 at its SoHo thrift shop. She was then promoted to manager of its flagship location in Chelsea and also worked at the Park Slope and Gramercy locations before the organization approached her about running its marijuana dispensary. She was nervous about taking the role given how new the industry was, both for her personally and for the city overall. The business is much more heavily regulated than the prior types of retail she’s worked in, but the general idea of customer service being paramount holds true no matter what you’re selling, she said.
Sales are going strong at the store, although the long lines have abated somewhat since it started offering deliveries and online preorders. The city’s retail industry was facing major headwinds even before Covid hit, but marijuana and cosmetics—another sector Nutgent has worked in—will keep going strong even if other sectors falter, she said.
“People are just really excited to be back out again and appreciate that face-to-face experience,” she said. “Things that make people feel good will always have a place to be successful.”
And Nutgent did recently try marijuana herself at a staff appreciation party in mid-January. She has come to find the edible products to be helpful for her anxiety, although smoking pot sparked some uncertainty her first time.
“I think I did it right,” she said. “I honestly don’t know, but I felt good afterward.”