Mayor Thomas Bernard helps CEO Anthony Parrinello cut the ribbon on Saturday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A location once known for its "Friendly" atmosphere has reopened with a new product but hopes that residents will still find the same welcoming ambience.
"There's a clear sky in North Adams," Mayor Thomas Bernard quipped as he helped Clear Sky Cannabis' Chief Executive Officer Anthony Parrinello clip a blue ribbon for the shop's grand opening on a clear and cold Saturday morning.
Those skies were cloudy for a bit as the city's first cannabis retail shop wound its way through the lengthy state licensing process and then construction slowed as the novel coronavirus pandemic affected the nation a year ago.
A line was at the door for the 10 a.m. opening at the transformed restaurant on State Road. The Friendly's closed in 2014 and the property was purchased by Clear Sky's parent company Evergreen Strategies in 2019. The Planning Board had approved the shop a year earlier.
"In my eight years going in ninth year in this business, from where it was when we first started in this space, it's night and day," said Parrinello earlier in the week, joking that people would show up at community meetings with "pitchforks and torches."
That's changed as communities see how the stores operate and understand the benefits of host agreements that in Clear Sky's case will mean 3 percent of its gross sales profit will go to the city of North Adams for the next five years and 60 percent of its workers will be city residents.
For Clear Sky, it also means finding talent locally and providing good jobs "that put bread on the table" for area residents, Parrinello said, who added he'd found the city "outstanding" in its welcome.
"The community, the city, from the mayor down to the police force, and everyone in between, and I'm not saying this to be nice. I've done this in many jurisdictions and municipalities around New Hampshire and Mass.," he said, adding he would expect help with red tape for the impact fee the city will get, but that it went beyond that. "They do because they want to, I just think that's the nature of the people here and of the administration. You know, the folks at City Hall are very much can-do, will-do. And they've shown us tremendous respect, and we're super excited to be part of the community."
With license in hand on Monday, the shop had a soft opening to test out its procedures and to let employees get comfortable with handling transactions. The shop has 18 employees, 17 full time and one who will work part or full time depending on their college classes. Of those, 13 are from North Adams and the rest from the surrounding area.
"Part of the excitement but also part of the barrier of opening a cannabis store is that there's a lot of regulations and a lot of steps that you have to walk through," said general manager Keifer Gammell. "We were ready to go, waiting on the Cannabis Control permission's final blessing for letter of commence operation. Once we got that, there was a three-day waiting period which brought us to Monday."
Those regulations for cannabis shops include security outside and inside the store: patrons enter into an airlock where they provide identification to prove they are of age and then are buzzed into the large, open store itself.
"It's a big open floor plan, wanting to transform the space into something that looked inviting, that was comfortable," said Gammell. "That looks like a higher end retail but also had this you know, level of approachability. ... We're trying to elevate a little bit of the consumer experience, give them more than just come in and purchase cannabis."
The space has a comfortable couch and lounging area, displays of cannabis-related products, books and accessories, and a television. There's a small gallery wall of art from Common Folk members for sale. There was a vacant spot on Thursday from one artwork that had already been purchased.
Across the back of the room where the restaurant serving area had been is a long L-shaped counter for sales and a large television showing products and prices. Just around the corner hanging on the wall is a piece of nostalgia -- one of the old, red, glass front doors with the Friendly's logo still on it.
A couple people had already dropped by, not to buy product but to peek inside and see how the building had changed.
"It was important to Anthony to keep that door and to let that be like an homage," Gammell said. "You know, honoring and respecting what used to be here and subsequently we want to be the friendliest place in town. ... It just it seems like it went hand in glove."
Gammell had worked at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art for a decade in the box office and visitor services. This isn't much different than his prior experience in managing a retail team focused on customer service, he said. "I have an amazing team."
Parrinello got involved in the cannabis industry nearly a decade ago when the state first started decriminalizing the product for medical use. He formed a company but was unable to get one of the few licenses available; he then joined with another group that also had been unsuccessful. This became Sira Naturals, of which he was chief operating officer before heading to Temescal Wellness. A few years ago, he decided to venture out on his own as Evergreen Strategies.
North Adams is the first open location for Evergreen, to be followed by Worcester in May and Belchertown in June or July. A 24,000 square-foot cultivation facility is being constructed in West Boylston.
"We're really looking forward to that sustainability from an agricultural standpoint," Parrinello said. "But obviously, it will allow us to create iconic products. ...
"There's so much more demand, and there's just inadequate supply that's driving up prices, and it's making it harder, but when you get your own production facility, then sourcing product becomes much less of an issue."
Biting big into that demand is the illicit market but Parrinello believes that will all shake out in the end as more licensed shops come online, prices come down and people search for safety, quality and variety in their product. He also doesn't see the proposed shops seeking licenses in Adams, North Adams and Williamstown as cutting into his business anymore than having multiple Dunkin' Donuts or pizzerias in the same area.
"First of all, like anything else, competition is competition. And not all groups are created equal and they're all not going to perform," he said. "This is a very long and challenging road to get to opening and the hurdles are really ones that entrepreneurs would not see in most businesses."
Parrinello said it's not just about getting over the hurdles but offering a wide selection of products and having smart people who are good at their job and can shepherd new customers and build up their confidence.
"And we have like a nice environment to do those things in. I think it's hard to lose with that long term," he said. "And that's really how we built the business."
Their first customer on Saturday was the mayor himself, though he didn't share what he'd purchased from Gammell.
"I'm excited to to reach this day. This has been a relationship that developed early on and the steps that we took early to make this possible," said Bernard. "I think people who grew up here, visited here and remember coming for Friendly's to see this come back to a different life in a different way, it's really exciting."
Clear Sky Cannabis is located at 221 State Road and offers a variety of recreational marijuana products at the store and for order online with curbside pickup. Hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 to 7 on Sunday (11 to 7 on March 14).
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