By Sam Jefferson | Community News Service
Waterbury’s newest cannabis dispensary has opened with a newly-constructed store along the busy Vermont Route 100 corridor in Waterbury Center.
Sitting directly across the two-lane state highway from Cold Hollow Cider Mill, the Vermont GoodFire Cannabis shop features big windows, four separate kiosks prepared for product browsing, and sliding glass hatches covering fresh bud for fragrance testing.
The 1,200-square-foot store is the community’s second retail cannabis business to enter the nascent Vermont marketplace in Waterbury. Zenbarn Farms last fall added cannabis to its CBD shop also on Vermont Route 100. Less than two miles apart, the two are the first retail licensees approved by the Vermont Cannabis Control Board for operation in Waterbury.
GoodFire’s opening earlier this month happened about a year and a half since Lynette Vallecillo and fiance Robert Owen purchased the former gas station and convenience store previously known as Emery’s. The building had sat unused and vacant for years and plans to refurbish the structure soon turned to starting from scratch.
“We initially thought we’d renovate [Emery’s], but then it was beyond repair,” Vallecillo said. “We ended up partnering with our architect, Joe Greene, as well as a larger team to build this place.”
MANY DIFFERENT STRAINS
The store offers fresh bud of many different strains. Above the bud casing, a sheet of paper tells customers the strain’s name, its THC and CBD percentages and its weight. Customers can also look through a built-in magnifying glass that allows for a closer look at the buds.
Many of the cannabis strains GoodFire sells come from local cultivators, including Upstate Elevator, best known for its flavored CBD seltzers found in supermarkets across Vermont.
“Laura, their sales representative, dropped off samples of their new THC line while the building was still under construction,” Vallecillo said. “We started a dialogue from there, and they’ve been wonderful to work with.”
Partnerships like that are important to Vallecillo and Owen: They want their dispensary to feel local. For example, prominently displayed are four colorful glass-blown rolling trays made at local glass artist Sam Lightner’s workshop in Middlesex.
So, what does it take to open a business in a whole new retail sector?
As a newcomer to the cannabis industry, Vallecillo found it valuable to enroll in a class at the University of Vermont on the medicinal and scientific properties of cannabis. “One of my main takeaways was people use cannabis for different reasons,” Vallecillo said. “Everybody’s needs are different, and I think it’s important to start slow and move from there.”
GoodFire assistant manager Ben Eirdosh is taking a class on cannabis use, too.
TRAINING FOR NEW HIRES
Eirdosh and Vallecillo said they hope to take what they’ve learned and make their own training program for new hires who, in turn, will pass along their knowledge to customers, many of whom have questions about using cannabis.
“Our mantra here is when someone comes in and says they’d like a sativa or indica, we respond with, ‘It’s all a hybrid,’” Eirdosh said.
Eirdosh said one of the store’s main goals is to educate customers about the percentages of THC and CBD in each product displayed on GoodFire’s translucent shelves. “All these strains are hybrids — they have a spectrum of chemistry that either lean toward activating or relaxing effects,” Eirdosh said.
The crew at GoodFire also says they want to make sure their customers don’t feel like they have to buy anything when they visit. And if someone is looking for something Goodfire doesn’t have, Vallecillo said she will send them to Waterbury’s other cannabis dispensary, Zenbarn Farms, just down the road. And so far, the local market doesn’t feel very crowded.
At Zenbarn Farms, co-founder Noah Fishman shares that outlook. He said he also thinks it’ll be healthy for Waterbury to have multiple dispensaries. “I think it’s great whenever the customer can have a choice for product,” Fishman said. “I hope that [with GoodFire], we can make Waterbury the premiere spot for cannabis in the country.”
The two operations soon will see how that continues to evolve when a third retail cannabis store opens its doors. Waterbury has a third dispensary on the way and it’s located between Zenbarn Farms and GoodFire.
31 Degrees North has leased space and hung signs in the retail center alongside Lake Champlain Chocolates, the Cabot annex store and Danforth Pewter. Jamie Joyner whose role in the new business is director of facilities, said the dispensary is preparing to open to the public soon. Contacted last week, Joyner said 31 Degrees hoped to be up and running the first week of May. That plan, however, hinged on state approval coming at the monthly meeting of the Cannabis Control Board. The board met on Monday, April 24, and did not approve a license for the third Waterbury retailer.
Nellie Marvel, outreach and education manager for the Vermont Cannabis Control Board, confirmed that 31 Degrees has an application in progress. “There is an application for 31 Degrees North, but they’re still listed as incomplete in our licensing platform. This means that they’ve submitted an application, our staff have reviewed it, and that there are pieces of the application that are either missing or need more information before we can declare it complete and ready to move along for Board review,” Marvel said in an email to Waterbury Roundabout.
The board meets monthly with its next scheduled meeting on May 22, Marvel said.
The state board has been approving licenses for growers, processors, and retailers in the new legal cannabis industry since last fall. So far 53 retail licenses have been approved statewide including the two in Waterbury, according to figures from the board’s April 24 meeting. The state board’s website shows just one pending application for Waterbury.
Both Zenbarn Farms and GoodFire received state license approval under a social equity category. Both have women owners who represent minority communities – Vallecillo is Puerto Rican and Zenbarn co-founder Marlena Tucker-Fishman is Black. The state program waives application and first-year license fees and charges reduced fees for the next three years for licensees who meet the criteria.
Vallecillo said she’s thrilled to see GoodFire finally up and running. “It’s such a great industry to be in – there’s lots of love here and I’m glad cannabis is finally being recognized for the healing properties it offers,” Vallecillo said.
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting and Documentary Storytelling program.