Kitchener-Waterloo

Rumours of pot store in Cambridge led retailers to other locations, leaving Waterloo region with none

When the Ontario government announced who had won the lottery for cannabis retail store licenses, there were informal talks amongst the winners of where people were going. There was a rumour Cambridge was getting a store, which led at least one retailer to set up shop in London.

London retailer thought Cambridge 'would be fully looked after' for cannabis, adviser says

Jon Conquergood is helping Chris Comrie set up his Central Cannabis store in London. Conquergood says Comrie had considered opening his retail store in Cambridge, but after hearing another lottery winner was going there, decided to seek out another location. There will be no cannabis stores opening in Waterloo region after April 1. (David Horemans/CBC)

In a week, some cannabis storefronts will open for customers in Ontario for the first time.

But there are no stores set to open in Waterloo region.

Part of the reason why is because of a rumour.

Jon Conquergood is the CEO of Corner Cannabis as well as Ontario Cannabis Holdings, which is currently serving as an adviser to Central Cannabis, London's first legal retail cannabis store.

Conquergood is working with Chris Comrie to get the London store ready to open. He says when the province informed the pot store lottery winners of their success, there were some informal discussions amongst them to try to co-ordinate locations and "to not step on each other's toes."

But, he says, those talks weren't well organized.

"There was some rumours that there was going to be a store in the Cambridge area and so Chris [Comrie] decided to turn his attention elsewhere and go to a different market, thinking that Cambridge would be fully looked after," Conquergood said.

"I guess, for whatever reason, that lottery winner decided not to go to that area."

'Economic upside' to cannabis stores

There were no applications submitted to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario for a store in Kitchener, Waterloo or Cambridge.

"It appears that the last two authorizations are both in the public notice phase and they are both for Hamilton," Kitchener's interim communications director Nicole Amaral said.

"The next round of authorization is scheduled to begin in December 2019."

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic says it's disappointing no one will be opening a cannabis retail store in the region.

"I think we were hopeful that as part of the new environment in the province, this region would be part of the [cannabis] retail environment," he said.

In one way, it would help create some jobs and there's an "economic upside" to having the retail outlets.

The city hasn't had any updates on what the phase of stores will look like or how people wanting to open stores will get licenses, he said.

"At this point, we're really waiting to hear from the province what those next steps will look like," he said.

Region 'high on our radar'

In January, 25 licenses were handed out by the province, seven of which went to the west region which includes Niagara, Hamilton, Windsor, London, and north to Manitoulin Island.

Conquergood said the province had a quick turnaround for the lottery winners to get set up and ready to open as of April 1.

"When people were beginning to look around for leasable locations, first and foremost, you have to find a great retail location and then you have to convince landlords that cannabis is a great use for them," Conquergood said.

"A lot of landlords don't like cannabis as a use and as a tenant in their retail environment. And that's a bit of a problem because it's really untrue," he added, noting cannabis stores bring in a lot of foot traffic, which is a benefit to neighbouring businesses.

Eventually, Conquergood says Corner Cannabis wants to open 75 stores in the province: the maximum currently allowed by the government.

"As the future unfolds and more stores are going to be opening up, hopefully near the end of this year, the expectation is that more stores will open in those other municipalities," he said. "Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge will certainly be high on our radar list."

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