When Adam Markus opened Station 420 in Union Gap three years ago, he wasn’t sure what to expect. As one of the first approved cannabis retailers in central Washington, business was so brisk that the store could only stay open a few hours each day.
“Just keeping enough product on hand was such a challenge back then,” Markus said recently, relaxing in front of a computer screen in the back room of his store. “Now, product is literally everywhere.”
The small store opened on July 8, 2014, located on the main route through Union Gap, a city of about 6,000 residents just south of Yakima.
The store was so busy that first summer that Markus ran misters in the parking lot to cool off lines of waiting customers. A security guard let patrons in two or three at a time so the handful of budtenders wasn’t overwhelmed by crowds.
Now, after remodeling the store’s layout several times, opening a separate glass shop next door, and hiring nearly 30 employees, long waits are a thing of the past—even though the store still serves about 3,000 clients a week, plus more during special events.
Before getting into the legal cannabis business, Marcus sold Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He was inspired to do something to combat rampant opiod addictions following the death of his sister in 2011. She had been dealing with chronic pain problems for 11 years. The family considered cannabis to help her but at the time couldn’t find any legal suppliers.
“The medical patients are where my heart is,” he said. “I love our retail customers to death, but it’s just about every week I’m trying to find a specific strain or something for a medical client.”
Steady business from the medical side has helped offset competition from other area retailers and falling product prices. Station 420 has three medically-certified budtenders on staff.
The nearby city of Yakima dropped its cannabis retail ban in May 2016, paving the way the opening of three retailers: Sweet Relief Boutique, the M Store, and Happy Time. There is also one retailer in Sunnyside.
In an odd stroke of fate, Station 420 is located on Main Street next door to The Slow Burn, which also opened in 2014.
Last year, Markus bought out another seller just down the road from The Slow Burn, so now visitors can take their pick of the original shop or the Mill Creek location.
Slow Burn also just opened a second location in Union Gap on Market Street.
Another key strategy Markus credits for robust retail business has been the recent hiring of Darin Steen, a local glassblower, to teach lessons to patrons and perform custom glass work. Steen has been making pipes out of German Schott glass that are so strong that employee Ryan Bailey enjoys bouncing them off the tiled floor to show shoppers how sturdy they are.
One unique feature that the Yakima area retailer can offer customers is a close connection with growers, Markus said. Once well-known for apples and row crops like potatoes, central Washington is becoming a hot spot for outdoor cannabis growers who want to take advantage of the region’s long growing season.
There are currently 39 producer/processors in Yakima County, the bulk in Moxee and Zillah.
“Four or five times a year, we load up all our budtenders and go on field trips,” Markus said. “We have customers that come in who want to know really specific things, like whether flower is raised with LED lights or not. That connection with local growers is not something that every retailer gets to have.”