Article by Tom Morrison, Chatham This Week
Chatham-Kent was left out of the initial roll out of cannabis retail shops, but now four applicants awaiting approval once restrictions due to COVID-19 are lifted.
While existing cannabis stores can offer curbside pickup or delivery, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission is not allowing new stores to open at the moment.
Don Tetrault Jr., president of Bud Bank Inc., said he submitted the application for his Chatham store at the beginning of January once the province moved away from its lottery system, of which Chatham-Kent was shut out of.
“I was lightly involved with a group of investors that went and tried for the lottery about two years ago,” he said. “Back in the fall when I saw that the retail licenses were opening up this past January, I decided that that was something I wanted to do and I jumped on the opportunity. This time I was able to involve myself quite a bit more and now I’m running it.”
Bud Bank is proposed to open at 445 Richmond St., which was the home of a CIBC branch for over 40 years until it closed last year.
“We thought, the vaults were there, it was a standalone building, security is there, and we thought the location was pretty perfect for what we wanted to do,” said Tetrault.
He has brought on Merlin resident Alaina Gutoskie as the retail manager. Gutoskie said she was an advocate for cannabis legalization prior to the 2015 federal election, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ran on a promise to allow adults to purchase the substance for recreational use.
However, she said the original lottery system left it unlikely for her to run a store.
“When I found out they were abolishing the lottery system, I got really excited because there was more of a chance for someone like me to open a dispensary and run it the way I wanted it to be run within the regulations set forth,” she said.
Gotoskie actually joked before she was approached for Bud Bank about opening a dispensary at a bank whenever she drove past the old BMO in Merlin.
The store has already gone through its public notice period in which Chatham-Kent residents or the municipality can provide comments on the location of the store. Tetrault said they didn’t receive any submissions.
With the COVID-19 restrictions in place, he said they are not allowed to do any building at the store. Before the store can open, it has to pass two inspections, said Gutoskie, which can’t happen right now.
In the meantime, Bud Bank posted a job listing. Tetrault said they will be sorting through about 100 resumes.
The main jobs available are budtenders – the front-facing staff who take orders – and the packers working in the back. Tetrault said their employees will likely work both roles depending on the day.
He said they are mainly looking for people with customer service experience.
“It’s kind of hard in this industry to ask for industry-specific skills because it’s such a new industry,” said Gutoskie. “We’re looking really for open-minded people that don’t necessarily have to have a really vast knowledge of cannabis, but are eager to learn and want to share that knowledge with people.”
As well, the business is looking to hire three retail managers.
Gutoskie said they have done a lot of research on how they want the store to look like and operate. She said she has personally visited about 20 retail stores in Ontario.
Some of the earlier shops resembled Apple stores, she said.
“We’re going for a deeper-toned, warmer feel,” she said. “We really want it to feel comfortable, almost like it’s been there as an institution for a while. We used a lot of the pre-existing architecture of that building.”
Tetrault said it is difficult for him to calculate how much he plans to invest because it will include the price of purchasing the building, the licensing fees, equipment and any changes made to the building.
However, he said it’s common for the owners of these types of stores to spend at least $1 million outfitting the store.
Gutoskie said they are excited to be part of a brand new industry.
“A big thing throughout the industry is we’re in this together because if one fails, we all fail,” she said. “It’s a very controversial industry, but the willingness to share any helpful information is there.”