From the outside, New York-based Ascend Wellness’ new recreational cannabis dispensary could easily be mistaken for its previous use — a restaurant.
Inside the 6,228-square-foot building, a former Outback Steakhouse that’s in the final stages of a renovation valued at about $1.2 million, the vibe is more in line with that of a tech store.
In a way, that’s the point.
“When you go into our Collinsville location, it feels like an experience that you would have in any other business when you’re going to purchase a product,” said Kathleen Olivastro, Ascend’s Illinois regional director. “And that’s our goal, not only to help normalize what cannabis is, but it’s also to create an amazing experience for our customers and our associates.”
The dispensary — located at 3201 Horizon Drive with visibility from Interstate 55 — will open to the public Nov. 5. It will be the third dispensary in Sangamon County licensed to sell recreational marijuana.
The new facility, operating under the name Ascend, is the “secondary site” of Illinois Supply & Provisions, 628 E. Adams St., which has served medical customers since 2016 and recreational customers since January.
Under the law, each of the state’s 55 medical marijuana had the right to open the state’s first stand-alone recreational-cannabis dispensaries in addition to selling recreational products at their existing sites.
Maribis of Springfield, a medical marijuana dispensary located in Grandview, began recreational sales this summer and plans to open a secondary site. One additional dispensing license will be awarded in the Springfield metropolitan area, which includes Sangamon and Menard counties, this year.
An efficient retail experience
Showing off their near-complete dispensary, which will be the region’s first adult-use only facility, Ascend officials said Thursday that customers will see many of the products they’re accustomed to, but that it would feel more like a traditional retail shopping experience.
“I think those that are interested in a retail experience and easy-in, easy-out, things like that, they will come here,” Olivastro said. “The Adams Street (dispensary) will continue to grow and protect that medical consumer so that they have a really robust selection … when they go to purchase their cannabis.”
Once customers enter the dispensary, their IDs will be scanned and they will be asked if they have already placed an order online.
If they have, a QR code will be scanned and the order will be printed in the back-of-the-house “vault” and the order will begin to be filled. The customer would then make their way to the dispensary floor, where their order would be rung up at one of 13 POS stations.
If they did not place an order online, they will be directed to the 3,000-square-foot dispensary floor where a “budtender” will walk them through the menu and answer any questions.
Though there’s plans for self-serve kiosks for ordering, its rollout has been indefinitely delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So we’re going to have budtenders available right here on the dispensary floor to make sure that we can help those that need more education on the product, or just a general understanding of cannabis and maybe help find what they need if they’re not quite sure yet how it could benefit them,” said Emma Ross, general manager of the new location.
In a word, dispensary officials said the new location is built to be “efficient.” In theory, they said the online ordering component — an innovation brought on by the pandemic that dispensary officials say is here to stay — should allow some customers to be in-and-out within five minutes.
The setup in the back of the house is also much more efficient, they said, compared to the “nooks and crannies” of the Adams Street location.
Another innovation at the location will be two “man trap” vaults between the room where orders are fulfilled and the registers where customers pay for and receive their product.
“What’s really nice about it is it eliminates the time we needed to run back and forth,” Ross said. “So my goal is to make sure it improves efficiency, which it ultimately will, and then also accuracy. It gives us an opportunity to really spot check things here before they go to the customer, which will build that experience for the customer again.”
When complete, the dispensary showroom will feature bookshelves along the walls featuring accessory items. Tables in the middle of the room with glass showcases built in will spotlight various cannabis products.
In one corner, there will be a “flower bar” where vendors can educate people about different products.
A budding market
Despite — or perhaps in part due to — the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, recreational cannabis has been a boon for the state. The Illinois Department of Revenue reported last week that the state has collected more than $100 million in tax revenue through adult-use sales.
“Thanks to those who have carefully overseen this brand-new industry’s successful launch in Illinois, revenue is flowing to local governments, to drug treatment programs and law enforcement, and being reinvested in our communities hit hardest by the failed policies of the past,” said IDOR Director David Harris.
Of the $105.9 million that has been collected thus far, at least $16 million will go to county and local governments.
And as of July 1, local governments could begin imposing up to a 3% excise tax on sales within their jurisdiction.
Last year, the Springfield City Council voted to impose the full 3%, opting to split the proceeds between funding police and fire pensions and economic development on the city’s east side.
Springfield budget director Bill McCarty confirmed that revenue from the 3% tax has started to flow into city coffers and that he has a general idea of how much sales tax revenue in general the city has generated from cannabis.
But, McCarty declined to share numbers as “that information is considered confidential under existing state statute and our information sharing agreement with IDOR prevents me from sharing it.”
Ascend Wellness, a vertically-integrated cannabis company that also operates in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio, is taking full advantage of the growth in the Illinois market.
Just months prior to the state approving legalization in 2019, the company bought what was then known as HCI Alternatives (now Illinois Supply and Provisions), which included the downtown Springfield dispensary and a location in Collinsville.
Located just minutes outside of St. Louis, the Collinsville location is purported to be the highest-grossing dispensary in the state.
The company also entered into a long-term lease agreement to operate a 75,000-square foot cultivation facility in Barry, which is about 80 miles west of Springfield.
In August, the company announced plans to enter the state’s largest cannabis market with the purchase of MOCA, a pair of dispensaries in the River North and Logan Square neighborhoods of Chicago.
The purchase still needs approval from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
If approved, it would give Ascend six retail licenses in Illinois. The group plans to continue looking for new acquisitions until it reaches 10, the maximum number of dispensaries per ownership group under state law.
Location, location, location
A grand opening is planned for Nov. 5. Though the company said it may have a soft open a few days prior to help ease employees into the flow of things.
The new location is expected to employ between 80 and 90 people, Olivastro said.
Dispensary officials are confident there is a budding market in the Springfield area for recreational marijuana and that the addition of another dispensary will not minimize the existing market.
They say the new location, with its visibility from Interstate 55 and proximity to hotels, should be supported as much from a transient customer base as it is from locals.
“You’re gonna get not only local customers here … you’re gonna get visitors,” said Ascend spokesman Chris McCloud. “You’re going to get visitors not only that are staying at those hotels, but obviously you are literally on the main corridor between St. Louis and Chicago. You’re going to get people that will just stop along the way.”
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