Article by Tom Morrison, Brantford Expositor
Chatham’s King Street West could soon be home to a cluster of cannabis shops, with one retail store already open and two others planned a short walk away.
The first downtown Chatham cannabis store, Herbologi, opened in November at 138 King St. W.
The owner of Willy’s 420 Supplies, who already operates a head shop under that name down the street, has applied for a cannabis store at the old Boyes & Herd Men’s Wear at 143 King St. W., while True North Cannabis Co. is looking to open a shop at the former Gray’s China Hall at 85 King St. W.
Nancy Dudley, spokesperson for the Historic Downtown Chatham BIA, said they welcome all businesses to the area and they don’t get to choose which businesses will open.
“It’s nice to know that people are forging forward with their plans (during a pandemic) to get open and be available to the public,” she said. “I think it’s a great thing.”
Dudley said some people might find it controversial to have three cannabis stores open in the same area, but they are legal entities. It’s not much different from three similar stores from a different industry opening up, she said.
There will likely be “friendly competition” and it will give consumers options, Dudley said.
“As business owners, they’ve probably done their research and worked out exactly what’s going to work best for them,” she said.
Jamie Rainbird, manager of economic development for the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, said his department encourages all entrepreneurs to prepare a business plan, including market research and research on competition.
“We certainly have no control over where people decide to set up shop, but we would hope that as part of their business planning process they’ve considered all of those elements,” he said.
Chris Colasanti, one of the owners of Herbologi, said it is an “obvious risk” as a business owner to have “direct competition within walking distance.”
He said since all legal Ontario pot shops have access to all of the same products through the Ontario Cannabis Store, they have to differentiate themselves through their brand and prices.
“We’ve tried to make a nice, lean, easy experience where it’s an in and out,” which leads to cost-savings passed on to the consumer, he said.
Colasanti said a positive factor of having more stores open in the area is it could lead to more “curious traffic” of people walking into these locations.
“I think this is the type of industry where a rising tide lifts all boats,” he said. “The more penetration there is in the market, the more we’ll be able to overcome this stigma (against cannabis use) and sort of change the landscape of the industry.”
Curtis Lemieux has sold cannabis accessories through Willy’s 420 Supplies since early 2018 and he applied for Ontario’s first cannabis retail lottery in 2019.
He said he’s now doing renovations on the old Boyes & Herd storefront, which he expects to have finished in February or March. The Alcohol & Gaming Commission of Ontario will then come in for inspections to start the approval process, he said.
“I guess we’ve already got a pretty good clientele and we’ve got a pretty good name established for ourselves already, so we’re not too concerned, but there is definitely going to be some healthy competition,” he said.
Lemieux said he is glad the other store owners chose downtown because it means there will be more money “injected” into the area and it could bring in more youth.
“We’ve kind of always believed in downtown and over the last couple of years we’ve seen quite a few improvements,” he said. “These kinds of stores typically try to be a little more high-end … and stand out a little bit since there are so many of them.”
A representative from True North Cannabis Co. did not respond to an interview request.
Colasanti said he and his partners decided to locate downtown because there were no other stores publicly announced for the area at the time they put in their application.
“We also love the building,” he said. “Downtown Chatham is starting to … pick up a little bit of steam here.”
Herbologi has hired five full-time employees, plus two of the owners are involved with the day-to-day operations, he said.
The other stores open elsewhere in Chatham-Kent have hired up to 16 employees.
Colasanti said having more people work downtown means more people are likely supporting the other businesses in the area, whether to grab a coffee or to shop at another local business during a break.