During normal times, I-90 Green House is like a destination resort for marijuana lovers.
The Ritzville shop owned by Cameron Stevenson and his wife, Jewel, prides itself on having more different strains and product options than anywhere in the state, or even any shop in Colorado or Oregon, too. They boast of their diverse product lines on billboards for drivers on both Interstate 90 and state Highway 395.
There's a lot less traffic on those roads as the country largely hunkers down to slow the coronavirus. And while the Stevensons' store is doing OK thanks to regular local customers and the folks who bought in large quantities before Gov. Jay Inslee declared cannabis shops among the essential businesses to stay open during his stay-at-home decree, times are tighter than normal.
The state's cannabis outlets overall seem to be doing good business through the pandemic, likely due to a combination of relaxed regulations that allow curbside product pickup and a lot of people suddenly stuck at home for weeks on end. But rural shops like I-90 Green House face some unique challenges.
"I would say we're seeing half as many cars or less," Cameron Stevenson says of the traffic on I-90 and 395 that typically brings them plenty of non-local customers.
March is typically one of the most profitable months of the year for the store, he says, helping a business with always-tight margins survive lean winter months when traffic slows down, and giving them a bridge until summer when upwards of 90,000 cars a day drive by and see those billboards. This year is different, though, because products they would normally order for "420" sales around April 20 are now taking four to six weeks to arrive — instead of five days.
Producers only have about three trimmers working instead of the normal 20, Stevenson says, so the supply line has slowed down considerably. Suppliers are also charging more, so he's had to raise prices as well.
Thankfully for the cannabis business, demand remains strong even through a pandemic. Jordan Chanski, manager of the Floyd's Cannabis Co. outlet in Pullman, says they've seen an increase in demand, one they're keeping up with by taking online orders and utilizing the allowance for curbside pickup. "Perhaps one step further" to support social distancing and self-quarantining, she adds, would be for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to allow home delivery.
In the meantime, Floyd's is taking extraordinary precautions for safety's sake during the COVID-19 outbreak. "We have cancelled all of our upcoming Vendor Days, Happy Hours, Daily Deals, and any event that would cause customers to want to gather in the store," Chanski writes in an email. "We have signs in and outside of the building informing customers of our new hours, asking people to limit their time in the store to a minimum, if at all possible, to keep their distance from others, to stay behind the tape, to not overcrowd the store, and to stay safe. We are encouraging quick and efficient shopping trips by offering a discount for any online orders."
Floyd's has an employee wiping down the door and high-touch areas like the ATM machine between each use, while also monitoring the number of people in the store; they only allow two customers inside at a time.
Chanski says she hasn't noticed particular strains being any more popular than normal, but customers have been buying in larger quantities.
Stevenson at his Ritzville shop, on the other hand, has noticed a definite shift from the more social, outgoing sativa strains to calming, sleep-inducing indicas. Like the Floyd's Pullman shop, though, he and his wife find themselves focused on customer safety as well as their own, since they both work in the shop every day.
They've installed plexiglass "sneeze guards" throughout the shop (as did Floyd's), they offer curbside pickup as well, and find themselves cleaning like crazy.
"We have tight margins already, and now we're spending thousands of dollars on cleaning supplies," Stevenson says. "It's getting expensive to keep up with the cleaning every day."
Still, he says they'll keep doing it even as life in Ritzville seems to go on relatively untouched by COVID-19. Stevenson says many in the conservative town are skeptical about the severity of the pandemic, but "we'd rather be overly prepared and have nothing happen." ♦