Viola Entering the Chicago Cannabis Market

This story was reprinted with permission from Crain’s Chicago and written by John Pletz.

A familiar name in the cannabis world is coming to Broadview, where a Viola retail store is set to open in the next week.

It’s the latest among the roughly two dozen new pot shops to open since the state of Illinois awarded 192 licenses last year after lengthy legal delays.

Preliminary licenses were issued just as private funding dried up and construction and other costs soared across the industry. As a result, many of the new stores that have managed to get open in this environment have one thing in common: affiliation with established operators in the cannabis industry, either in Illinois or other states.

Viola Chi is led by Dan Pettigrew, a Hyde Park entrepreneur and cannabis-industry veteran, and business partner Al Lomax. Pettigrew co-founded cannabis company Viola Brands with Al Harrington, a former pro basketball player, in Denver in 2011.

Pettigrew and Lomax won two licenses in Illinois. After opening the store at 1516 W. Roosevelt Road in Broadview, they plan to open another on Webster Avenue near Damen Avenue later this year.

Pettigrew and Lomax raised about $5 million for the Illinois stores apart from Viola Brands, drawing on relationships with Black business owners and investors.

“We understood it was going to be challenging,” Pettigrew says. “We’ve been operating in the legal cannabis space for over 12 years. We’re in a unique position (as minority owners) with a strong team and strong partners.”

The Chicago company is partnering with Viola Brands, which has operations in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Oregon, with facilities under construction in California and New Jersey. It also has won licenses in Maryland and other states.

Two other Chicago-area pot shops that have opened include those under the Spark’d brand. A Spark’d store that opened last month in Wicker Park is majority-owned by social-equity applicants Loretta and Priscilla Foster, who partnered with Paul Lee, a co-owner of Dispensary 33, which is one of the original Chicago dispensaries that launched with the state’s medical-marijuana program nearly a decade ago. A store in Hoffman Estates that opened in January is majority-owned by social-equity applicant Edward Bransford, who partnered with Bryan Zises, another co-owner of Dispensary 33.

“The Illinois application process was built to marry capital with experience with social equity,” Zises says. “That’s exactly what we did.”

Other familiar cannabis names among the newly opened stores in Illinois are Body & Mind, a publicly traded company with operations in Nevada, California, Arkansas, Michigan and Ohio; Star Buds, based in Denver, Colo.; and World of Weed, based in Tacoma, Wash., which is operating under the Ivy Hall name in Montgomery and Waukegan.

“Most of the people opening stores are extremely familiar with opening and operating a dispensary,” says Pam Althoff, former executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, an industry trade group. “They know what it takes.”

Many winners of dispensary licenses have struggled to raise capital and get stores up and running. It’s one reason state legislators approved a one-year extension on the amount of time license winners had to find locations for new stores and authorized a $40 million loan fund.

“There’s no money anywhere in cannabis right now,” says Laura Jaramillo Bernal, chief operating officer at NuEra, an existing cannabis operator with six stores in Illinois. “For social-equity applicants who don’t have collateral or previous operating experience, it’s especially challenging.”

 

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