One of the possible locations for a Haven recreational pot dispensary is 1704 East Belmont Ave., right off Blackstone Avenue. A rendering shows what the location might look like if approved. Image contributed.
Written by Frank Lopez
As soon as it was announced the City of Fresno would begin to accept applications for cannabis business licenses, companies were quick to apply to open up shop in a new market.
In October, the City of Fresno began to accept applications, with companies far and wide seeking to open up recreational marijuana dispensaries in one of the state’s last large cities to do so.
Though the city hasn’t granted licensure to any company yet, some ventures are already sharing their visions for what a cannabis dispensary could look like in the near future.
Courtney Caron, attorney and owner of Santa Monica based law firm Adamant Law Group, is representing two different companies that are applying for the city’s business license.
With their business plan and aim to give back to the community, Caron says she is confident that both enterprises have a good chance at obtaining a cannabis business license.
Caron said that even though the area is a new market, it’s important to make sure the community understands and approves of cannabis dispensaries coming to town.
A home for Haven
Haven is one of the companies that Caron is representing with locations including Long Beach, Oxnard, Lockwood and Los Alamitos, amongst others.
Haven also recently was approved to open up a store in Porterville.
Joe Velasquez, licensing and acquisition specialist for Haven, said that Fresno, a large metropolis area with a population of over 500,000, is an attractive market.
“They’re giving out a lot of licenses and we want to be a part of the city of Fresno,” Velasquez said.
One of the proposed locations for Haven’s store is at 110 E. Shaw Ave., just east of Blackstone Avenue.
Velasquez said that the proposed location is attractive because of its proximity to the freeway, high traffic passing through the area, and because it is a stand-alone building with plenty of traffic.
Another proposed location for Haven is at 1704 East Belmont Ave., right off Blackstone Avenue.
Haven has different proposed locations in council districts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7.
“It’s always really important when you’re opening a cannabis business that your neighbors are going to be least affected as possible. A lot of the buildings proposed are free standing. If you’re really looking to make as little impact as possible on your neighbors, having free standing buildings when you can find them is ideal,” Caron said.
Mark Simonian, chief operating officer at Haven, said that during a pandemic, the availability parking is of great value as dispensaries are allowed by the Bureau of Cannabis Control to do curbside pickup.
Some of the major concerns for communities when a dispensary comes into town is crime and safety, but Simonian said that the shops will have 24/7 armed security and professionally monitored alarm and security camera systems.
“We generally have very little issue with any kind of security and crime. In general, cannabis businesses actually generally reduce the crime levels to surrounding businesses where they are located,” Simonian said.
Simonian said their target clientele is usually the “soccer mom.” The best marketing source is word-of-mouth, he said, and going into one of their shops is an experience.
To provide helpful and informed service, Haven employees are put through a rigorous two week customer education program. Vendors and brands are brought in to educate employees on cannabis and their specific products.
Haven also requires brands that work with Haven to come in and do continuing education with its employees each quarter. Brands working with Haven will educate customers as well to see what fits their needs best.
Another important issue regarding cannabis dispensaries is keeping products away from youth.
Caron said she has spoken with officials from the Fresno Unified School District about youth prevention, as well as school principals about legal cannabis coming to the area. Part of her job is to make sure that brands that she works with are not attracting or advertising to the youth.
An important component to the city’s cannabis business license program is a company’s proposed efforts to give back to the community.
Haven said that some of the methods of contribution include monetary donations to non-profit organizations, drives for organizations, community outreach, and volunteering as an organization and providing volunteer hours paid to employees to give their time to local non-profits.
For the initial first year, Velasquez said there is a projection of each dispensary creating jobs for at least 12 to 15 people, and could even go up to 20 to 25 employees depending on the size of the location, where its located and customer base projections.
Caron said that most members of the Fresno City Council are excited about the funds and tax revenues that will be generated, and ways that dispensaries can help individuals with cannabis convictions in the past and are now interested in establishing cannabis businesses.
The artistry of Artist Tree
Another cannabis brand that Caron is working with is The Artist Tree, which is also applying for a cannabis license for Fresno.
Currently operating out in West Hollywood, The Artist Tree is opening new locations in Los Angeles, Riverside County and El Sobrante.
Artist Tree stores are a cross between art galleries and cannabis stores, with local artists being able to display their work at no charge and keep all the money from the sale of their art works.
Lauren Fontein, a co-founder at The Artist Tree along with her business partners, has been in the industry since the medicinal cannabis scene was starting. She said to differentiate themselves and respect the values of the city, they decided to create a more artistic experience.
One of the proposed locations for the Artist Tree store is the former Audie’s Olympic bar in Fresno’s Tower District.
Because of the bustling art scene in Fresno, and the Tower District being known as the heart of the city’s art scene, Fontein said that it would be the perfect place for one of its stores.
Fontein said because of the large space and set up of the former bar, it goes in with the business model of having a dispensary as well as a large open space for the gallery interior.
The exterior of the building will have an Art Deco style that Fontein says will be a unique, modern and eye-catching storefront to help revitalize the area.
“We thought Fresno was a perfect fit for us,” Fontein said. “We’re not necessarily just looking to expand anywhere that we can find a license. We really do think about locations and what would be a good fit and where The Artist Tree could help expand the local art culture.”
The brand has made connections with the Fresno Arts Council to become a partner for Fresno ArtHop.
There is another proposed location for The Artist Tree at 7835 N. Palm Ave., right off of Nees Avenue, to target older, more professional and affluent clientele.
“This is so new to Fresno so we can kind of put our own spin on the definition of what cannabis retail is and redefine it in people’s minds. Having that there in a mainstream shopping area will show that it is just like any other store and attract the clientele that live in the area.”
The Artist Tree also wants to create connections with organizations such as the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission to help spread the word of job opportunities available.
There have been about 65 other applicants for the 14 available business licenses — two per council district. Applicants anticipate license awards could come as soon as the latter part of 2021.