Emerging Neighbourhoods, Small Towns, and Suburbs Popular with Cannabis Shop Owners
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to finding the ideal location to open a retail cannabis shop in Canada. With advertising options limited, will foot traffic matter? What about parking? Will the store be accepted in the neighbourhood? Cannabis shop owners must also consider legislation, such as the proximity to schools. In most provinces that distance is 150 metres.
Commercial realtor and business broker Paul Mon-Kau adds it’s not as simple as finding the perfect location and moving in. “It’s a long process that starts with finding a landlord willing to lease to you,” says Mon-Kau. “Then you might find a landlord who will lease you a free-standing building, but when it comes to a building with residences in it, you also have to get approval from the strata.”
Mon-Kau says that process can take months and then once you have a location secured, the next step is getting approval from the municipality. Some municipalities have passed resolutions prohibiting cannabis retail stores all together.
With that in mind, some cannabis shop owners are seeking out locations in emerging neighbourhoods, small towns, and suburbs where leases are easier to secure and a younger demographic means a built-in customer base.
Looking for Unique Locations
One example of a creative location is Enlightened Herb Cannabis, which is located within a heritage church in Black Diamond, Alberta, a small town with a population of fewer than 3,000 residents. Enlightened Herb Cannabis is also officially included on the famous Cowboy Trail, a scenic route along Highway 22, better known for western adventure than cannabis.
Co-owner Danielle French, manager for Enlightened Herb, has a background in film, art and as a singer/songwriter. To that end, the business is owned and operated by a passionate team of artists, musicians, and filmmakers, whose influence is obvious throughout the shop.
Black Diamond is a small community with a thriving art scene.
“I grew up here in Okotoks about a 15-minute drive away, and have family all around the neighbourhood,” says French. “I was living in Calgary and looking for a location for a cannabis shop, but there was a big land grab that drove the prices up. That’s when I decided to see if I could rent that old church off of Jimmy.”
Jimmy is a long-time friend of French’s family and after his tenant at the time moved her business out of the church, Enlightened Herb Cannabis moved in. Black Diamond is a small community with a thriving art scene, and the town has embraced the store, partially because of its efforts to pay homage to the history of the building by incorporating tasteful church themes into the décor, such as beautiful, stained-glass windows. The shop also acts as a gallery where local art is sold. “We have real life hippies living here, so we fit right in,” says French.
Setting Up in the Suburbs
Mon-Kau notes while some cannabis shop owners consider details such as foot traffic and parking, others simply assume if they build it, they will come, which is partially the case with Burb cannabis, which offers a mix of both.
Burb owners John Kaye, Clayton Chessa, and Steve Dowsley have created a lifestyle brand in the suburbs encompassing cannabis, a podcast, art, music, and a monochromatic clothing line, reminiscent of Justin Bieber’s Drew House and Kanye West’s Yeezy. Kaye says because he and Dowsley grew up in Port Coquitlam their plan was always to start their business in that suburb. Lower rents combined with waiting customers also helped their plan make sense—the Port Moody location was just the second cannabis shop to open in that community. Burb Port Moody is located in Suter Brook Village on Morrisey Road, a modern, mixed-use development that pairs retail shops at ground level with residential units above, a popular mix for the increasing number of young families and individuals leaving the city in search of more affordable housing.
“With this location we really wanted to bring an urban experience to the suburbs,” says Kaye.
That changing demographic is the same in Port Coquitlam, where large detached homes with multiple bedrooms are also drawing younger residents. But, that’s where the similarities end. Burb’s flagship shop on Broadway Street in Port Coquitlam is located in a light industrial area near the Mary Hill Bypass surrounded by fast food restaurants, coffee shops, manufacturing plants, a storage facility, an auction house, and construction companies. Burb’s second location is in a strip mall at the border of Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam called Poco Place with a Michael’s craft store on one side and a Pomme Market natural grocery store on the other. Kaye says these locations pay homage to the legacy cannabis stores they frequented in their youth.
“We want to honour that legacy,” describes Kaye. “That’s where the industry started. We have an emotional connection to the burbs, and coming from a background of the music industry and skateboarding, it seemed really natural to become part of this community.”
The fact that Port Coquitlam is so spread out also means the car is king, as public transportation is used by less than 6% of residents, making Burb’s Port Coquitlam locations with their ample parking ideal.
It’s the opposite case with Two Cats Cannabis, located on Gerrard Street in the emerging neighbourhood of Leslieville, a suburb of Toronto. The owners chose their location partially because of a steady stream of foot traffic. The community is pedestrian friendly, with public transportation slightly more popular than vehicle traffic, which is not surprising considering the city’s largest demographic is between 35 to 50 years old.
Opportunities in Emerging Neighbourhoods
Two Cats managing partner Alana DeCoste, explains the cannabis shop is an extension of Two Cats Cocktail Lounge, which closed in March due to the COVID-19 crisis. “Hospitality is in our lifeblood,” says DeCoste of the team, which besides herself, is comprised of owner/operators Michael Currie, Victoria Sharma, and Marcus Weiss. “But, right now the industry is not doing so well.”
With drinking in bars out, and self-isolating in, Two Cats turned its attention to the cannabis industry and searched out a location. What they found was an open space on Gerrard St. in a residential neighbourhood in the midst of a transition from single-family homes to condos and apartments, following the wave of young professionals migrating to the area in search of an urban lifestyle without the downtown price tag. Along with that influx, the largely English-speaking neighbourhood is fast becoming home to a multitude of hip cafés, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and businesses—with Two Cats landing right in the middle. Neighbours of Two Cats include an electronics store, take-out restaurants, hair salons, food markets, and residential housing.
“There are some really cool restaurants and bars in the neighbourhood and their patrons are fiercely loyal,” says DeCoste. “And there are some corporate cannabis companies opening up too, but we’ll stand out because we’re a mom and pop shop and care about what we do.”
Meanwhile, Mon-Kau says anyone hoping to open a cannabis shop anywhere in Canada needs to do their due diligence because it can take more than a year to get approvals and permits in place. However, when stores can finally find that right location and open their doors, there will be many eager customers who want to shop there.