Spokane’s newest and most-scrutinized retailers opened their doors with deals for their first Black (or Green) Friday, as the fledgling legal marijuana market continues its march toward competition not only among licensed shops but also with the black market.
It’s been almost five months since the first retail pot shop opened in Spokane, and now nine stores are vying for customers. The business is heavily regulated with state officials restricting the hours, price structure and method of payment.
So store owners are working to set their shops apart from the competition: They rely on deals with growers to hold down costs and tailor their customer service to niche audiences.
“Everybody’s within $1 or $2 a gram,” said Sam Calvert, owner of Green Star Cannabis on Division Street. “Right now, it is what it is.”
Most stores in the Spokane area offered deals Friday that dropped prices to as low as $8 and $9 a gram for some varieties, less than half the price when shops opened for business this summer.
Tate Kapple and Cristy Aranguiz sweetened the pot at Cannabis and Glass, a new shop that opened this month on North Market Street, with a free lighter for any purchase. Buying an ounce, upward of $300, entitled the customer to a 15-inch glass pipe styled after the one smoked by Gandalf in the “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy.
Kapple sold out of his most popular strain, the 34-percent THC flower known as “Kandy Kush,” within minutes of opening his doors at 8 a.m. to waiting customers. The pot was priced at $13 a gram, dictated by the price Kapple paid for the product.
While some stores in Colorado advertised sales as low as $5 a gram for what retailers there called “Green Friday,” Kapple said that would be “impossible in Washington state” where retailers must sell their product for at least as much as they paid for it.
“There’s nothing on the market at that price,” Kapple said. “The tax structure is too burdensome.”
Greenlight Spokane off Trent Avenue offered “eighths,” or 1/8 of an ounce, for $40, a price that works out to a little more than $10 a gram. Co-owner Sonny Langdon said that was part of the store’s effort to bite into the black market, which sells its products in fractions of an ounce.
“We stocked up for the day,” Langdon said. “We knew it was going to be busy.”
Greenlight’s backlit display cases are surrounded by timber walls and soft lighting, which Langdon said is designed to promote a community atmosphere. Some shoppers have said it reminds them of a log cabin, he said. Like other stores, Greenlight is attempting to resonate with a customer base that does not see buying marijuana as a novelty anymore, but rather as a normal retail experience.
“I didn’t want to be the Apple Store,” Langdon said.
Cinder, which operates on Mullan Road in Spokane Valley and opened a second location within the Spokane city limits, chose a more hands-on approach to display its product. Customers can walk through the door and pick up glassware like pipes and bongs, rolling papers and other paraphernalia before buying.
Owner Justin Peterson said he’s trying to create an experience, with brightly lit space and pop tunes pumped through the speakers, that feels safe and comfortable for the consumer.
“I like walking in and being able to touch things,” he said. “I hate the whole glass case look.”
Cinder’s prices, including 10 percent discounts on marijuana buds and 20 percent off “shake,” or ground-up flowers used in baking and joints, will last through the weekend.
Peterson’s shop is just a few miles from Greenlight and fellow competitor Sativa Sisters, which has attempted to draw in audiences with an adjoined coffee shop and a wide variety of products including edibles and syrups. Manager Eric Skar said the clientele has been skewing younger in recent weeks, and customers appreciate being able to buy low-level THC products like lip balms and topical creams in the coffee shop.
“We’re going for a great value, small-batch whiskey kind of feel, if you want to compare it to alcohol,” Skar said. Sativa Sisters offered three varieties of buds through a local grower for $15 a gram Friday.
Other shops in town, including Satori and Spokane Green Leaf, offered deals on plants and edibles and other giveaways Friday. Under state law, it remains a felony for the stores to give away marijuana, however.
The $44 million industry, according to the most recent estimates from the state Liquor Control Board, continues to operate under a cloud of social scrutiny, shop owners said. Neighborhood groups have lobbied at the county and city levels in recent weeks to make zoning regulations more stringent for growers.
Some critics say legalization has convinced more teens that there’s little harm in using pot, according to recent surveys of students. Many school officials worry that legalization will increase access to the drug by minors.
But Green Star owner Calvert said shoppers have responded to the customer service experience he’s offered and he is confident public opinion will continue to sway as the market gains a foothold and competition among legal outlets pushes illegal drug dealers out of the market. Calvert offers magnifying glasses for his customers to inspect his product, and the floor layout is designed to always have a customer service representative on hand to answer questions.
Calvert said he made more in the first hour and a half his shop was open Friday than during the same time period any day he’d opened his doors since August. Producers, processors and retailers, he said, will have to continue to work together for those kind of results, which keep the young market afloat.
“If people don’t walk in that front door, then the entire industry fails,” he said.
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