While people may buy more stuff online, they still like to go out and shop if stores offer them a way to engage their curiosity, a sense of adventure, and a place to gather.
And that’s the thinking behind tech entrepreneur Joanne Wilson’s newly-opened, state-licensed cannabis store, Gotham, located on 3 East 3rd Street just off the corner of the Bowery in downtown New York City.
“We’re a new retail spot that happens to carry cannabis,” Wilson told MarketWatch. “We’re re-thinking retail to create an experience.”
Gotham is modeled after successful luxury environments ranging from boutique hotels to critically-recognized stores such as Dover Street Market which has locations in London, New York and other cities.
It’s also tapping into efforts by stores to become destinations for people to meet and spend time while browsing through a variety of merchandise from buzzy designers.
Walking into the Gotham store feels like approaching a high-end hotel concierge desk as Wilson describes it, with a service person greeting you inside an entry foyer.
Inside, the 2,800-foot store opens up with lots of floor space and a variety of products and apparel on display.
Wood panel shelving on either wall overflows with pillows, vases, books and many other cannabis-inspired wares or as Wilson describes them, canna-jacent products that compliment its marijuana products.
An 18-foot tree sculpture made up of brown paper and green fabric rises up from the floor, with leafy branches arching over a circular bench for customers to sit and chat. Wilson said the tree was modeled after a famous 300-year-old Elm in Washington Square Park, a legendary city destination for cannabis aficionados.
The back half of the store houses 10 glass point-of-sale display stations against each wall that contain pre-rolled joints, cured cannabis flower, edibles and other products, and a a staff of “insanely well-versed” sales people, as Wilson describes them.
There’s also gallery space for fine art, an area for CBD products, and an upstairs mezzanine level for events such as joint-rolling contests.
“It’s a place for engaging with people that are culturally astute,” Wilson said.
Some examples of the store’s wares include ash trays from actor Seth Rogen’s Houseplant brand and the edibles brand Rose Delights.
Exclusive products unique to the store include a Rose Delights flavor collaboration with David Zilber, a chef and author known as head of fermentation at critically acclaimed restaurant Noma.
For its first event, Gotham will host a gallery of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) with Bright Moments. There’s also a permanent installation from New York City multimedia artist Molly Lowe as well as gallery space designed by Cinema Vitae.
Wilson’s Gotham is one of only a handful of state-regulated retail adult-use cannabis locations in New York State now open for business as the state rolls out its efforts to award its first licenses to people affected by the U.S. “War on Drugs” and non-profits that serve them under its conditional adult-use retail dispensaries (Caurd) program.
In the case of Gotham’s Caurd license, Wilson partners with Strive International Inc., a Harlem-based charity founded in 1984 that provides job training and career development to low-income people.
At least 10% of Gotham’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, amortization and depreciation (Ebitda) will go to support Strive’s non-profit work.
Gotham also provides full healthcare benefits and a profit-sharing for employees with annual bonuses.
Known in New York’s technology sector for decades since the rise of the city’s “Silicon Alley” internet advertising agency boom of the late 1990s, Wilson maintains a blog called Gotham Gal. Her work includes some 150 investments in startups over nearly two decades.
Some of her winners include Ring, which was sold to Amazon.com in 2018 for up to $1.8 billion, as well as Eater, Parachute Home and Food52. She also co-founded Frame Home, a residential real estate company based in Brooklyn, and sits on the board of the Public Housing Community fund and The Highline.
She decided to take a break from investing a few years ago and began focusing on the cannabis sector a few years ago as New York’s legislature started moving toward adult-use legalization and approved it in 2021.
“I’d been thinking about starting a store since I was 21,” Wilson said. “I smoke a lot of weed and this thing [New York legalization] was happening, I said, ‘I want to do this.’”
She teamed up with Billy Richards as chief creative director to launch Gotham, with plans for two more stores and a potential delivery service as well.
While an estimated 1,400 illegal cannabis stores have popped up around the city, Wilson said it’s been difficult for licensed operations to get up and running in the face of a challenging regulatory environment, higher taxes, and more red tape and higher costs than other businesses.
After licenses were first awarded by New York on Nov. 18, Wilson has been running full speed to get the store open.
Looking ahead, she sees a role for New York City as the largest legal cannabis market in the U.S.
To be sure, however, there will be plenty of competition.
Tapping her experience as an early investor in companies, Wilson has been driven to carve out an advantage as a first-mover in the luxury cannabis product space. With Wilson’s first Gotham store now up and running, that milestone has finally been reached, as she takes aim at the next challenge. (Full Story)