Cannabis store could replace ByWard Market restaurant
Councillor says retailer's proposed York Street location 'a good fit'
The CEO of an Alberta-based chain of cannabis stores says his company is looking forward to setting up shop in Ottawa's ByWard market.
Fire & Flower CEO Trevor Fencott says the new location at 129 York St. — the former Smoque Shack restaurant near Dalhousie Street— would be ideal because the area draws foot traffic and serves as a retail hub.
"We really feel strongly that Ottawa is going to be a key part of what Canadians look at when they see the regulated system," he said. "This is going to be where a lot of people get their first experience."
A 15-day period of public comments on the proposed storefront locations is now open through the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).
But with much of the consultation legwork already done by city council, Fencott said he'd be "very surprised" to get pushback from people living in the area.
The city councillor for Rideau-Vanier, Mathieu Fleury, said the proximity to hotels and transit makes the location work.
"I don't mind the location," he said, adding that he would be watching to see that a cluster of similar shops didn't open in the same neighbourhood.
"I think it's important that the product be accessible," he said.
"The entire goal of the federal government is to remove weed from the hands of gangs."
Fencott is hoping the pull of the cannabis industry will slide into the roster of attractions that already bring crowds to the nation's capital.
"We've got things like Beavertails, we've got things like poutine and now we've got things like cannabis," he said.
"It's very natural, I think."
The company — which has numerous cannabis retail locations in Alberta and Saskatchewan — reached a deal with two Ontario pot-shop lottery winners to open stores in the eastern part of the province, with the second at 75 Brock St. in downtown Kingston.
- Pot lottery winners reaching out to more established players
- Race on to partner with Ontario's cannabis retail licence winners
The partnership will see the licencees undertaking the day-to-day running of the business, with Fire & Flower providing the organizational heft and institutional knowledge of an established cannabis company.
This is not selling chocolate bars or T-shirts, this is selling a regulated substance, so you really have to know what you're doing.- Trevor Fencott
Actually opening the store is the easy part, Fencott said, but there's a steep learning curve when it comes to navigating the tricky regulations surrounding legalized cannabis — a key reason why licence-holders are teaming up with more established companies.
"This is not selling chocolate bars or T-shirts, this is selling a regulated substance, so you really have to know what you're doing," he said.
"This is the beginning of the industry and it's important that it's done right."
Fencott said the company has suggested modelling the York Street location after another location in Edmonton, where Fire & Flower turned the second floor of the building into an industrial kitchen to show people how to cook with cannabis.
4 of 5 locations known
Ontario announced the results of its lottery to hand out the first licenses to operate cannabis stores last month.
After initially planning a broader roll out, the government announced last month it would only allow 25 stores to open as of April 1 because of concerns it had about the supply.
The six qualifying communities for this round in what the province has deemed eastern Ontario — Ottawa, Kingston, Belleville, Peterborough, Kawartha Lakes and Barrie — get five of those licenses.
These two proposals, along with one on Wellington Street West in Ottawa and another three blocks away from Fire & Flower's Kingston space, mean just one of these proposals has not been put out for public consultation.
With files from Leah Hansen