A recreational cannabis retail company has found its way into the center of the prairie.
Spiritleaf opened its first location on Portage Ave earlier this month. 3653 opened. Over the summer, the company plans to open another five locations in different corners of the city.
Three stores will be franchised and three will be company owned, including the current location in Crestview.
Inner Spirit Holdings, the parent company of Spiritleaf, was the first cannabis company to be certified by membership in the Canadian Franchise Association.
Darren Bondar, President and CEO of Spiritleaf, said he looks forward to entering Manitoba’s private cannabis retail market and can see the Calgary-based company open more locations across the province.
“When the Winnipeg market matures and customers really like us, or when there are local entrepreneurs looking to open in their communities, we look forward to expanding the Spiritleaf brand across the province,” said Bondar.
Some of the Winnipeg franchisors own businesses in the culinary industry and wanted to branch out, he said.
Some provinces and territories currently do not allow doing business with private cannabis retailers, including NB, NS, PEI, Que., NWT, and Nunavut.
Spiritleaf hopes to create a shopping experience that is welcoming and authentic to cannabis culture and history, Bondar said.
“The staff are knowledgeable and well educated and trained to assist consumers who are familiar with products, but also new consumers who are first time experimenting or want to learn about cannabis,” said Bondar.
Travis Kelsch, the Store Manager of Spiritleaf St. James, has been in the cannabis sector for years and recently joined the company due to its growth potential.
The Kelsch store has eight employees.
“If any of the employees may have any symptoms, I want to make sure they’re comfortable enough and have enough support from us so they don’t feel like they have to come to work,” he said. “The greatest thing for us is to create a clean, safe environment here.”
He believes the rustic aesthetic of the store – a bit of the west coast and a bit of country – sets the brand apart from other retailers in town who tend towards a clinical look. In addition, the shop features reclaimed wood accents, plants, and the iconography of the 1960s.
“For us it should be about reconnecting with nature and then about peace, love and harmony,” he said. “I think it’s really important that we have a lot of green to show that.”
The company plans to partner with local licensed producers to offer craft cannabis to its clientele in addition to the big national brands, Kelsch said.
“I think the future of cannabis lies in growing small craft plants,” said Kelsch. “We are Winnipeggers. We always want to focus on the community roots.”
Spiritleaf was the first cannabis company in Canada to cross the milestone of opening 80 retail locations.
According to the Inner Spirits website, the company expects to have over 100 or more stores by the end of this summer.
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Katlyn Streilein is the Metro’s community journalist.
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