Wellington West residents steel themselves for pot shop opening
Only two days before Ottawa’s first three legal cannabis shops were set to open, about 30 people attended an town hall about a new pot shop in Wellington West.
Superette, which has a sales floor of approximately 2,400 square feet, has set up shop in the ground floor of a five-storey building at 1306 Wellington St. W., near Warren Avenue.
The shop will open Monday at 10 a.m., as will Fire & Flower York Street Cannabis in the ByWard Market and Hobo Recreational Cannabis Store on Bank Street.
It’s clear that Superette’s first day will be busy and there will be lineups, but it’s unknown how many people will show up and how many weeks or months will pass before crowds thin out.
Kitchisippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, who hosted Saturday’s meeting, assured neighbourhood residents that bylaw officers would keep a keen eye on parking infractions.
“I can’t force bylaw to do anything, but they have made a commitment to be ruthless,” Leiper said.
There are some things bylaw can’t do, though. “Anyone can stand outside your house (waiting in line), but bylaw can’t move them along,” Leiper said. “It’s a matter of goodwill and collaboration.”
Superette co-founder Mimi Lam assured neighbourhood residents that she had heard their concerns loud and clear. She said Superette had hired a security company and arranged for stanchions to assure that, even if there was a lineup, customers would be “respectful.”
Lam said she worked in a highly-regulated industry. “We’re taking all this feedback very seriously. We’ll be prepared regardless of what happens.”
Neighbours were invited for a tour of the store after Saturday’s meeting, but photos were not allowed.
Superette managers expect that customers will fall into one of its two service models.
About half of the initial wave of customers will want to talk to staff to get “educated” about products. These customers typically spend between 30 and 45 minutes in a shop.
Those in the second group will already know what they want and opt for “express” service, which could have them in and out of the store within a few minutes.
Lam said she expected that, as time passed, more and more customers would be in the “express” stream, which will take pressure off parking in the area.
In total, 25 recreational cannabis stores, decided by lottery, were supposed to open across the province on Monday, but they won’t all be ready on time.
Ottawa council voted to opt into cannabis retail in December. Under provincial rules, a city can’t limit where the stores will be located using zoning bylaws, but pot shops must be at least 150 metres from the property line of the nearest school.
Leiper was unapologetic about voting to opt in and said he knew the stores would open in affluent, walkable neighbourhoods such as West Wellington. “I try to be transparent. I said cannabis stores are coming. I support them.”
Lam and Superette co-founder Drummond Munro said they looked at other sites, but proximity to Tunney’s Pasture and Holland Cross and the availability of public transit made the location at Wellington Street West and Warren very appealing.
In answer to another question about whether customers would consume cannabis near the store, Lam said experience in other markets had shown that wouldn’t happen.
A phone survey commissioned last year by the City of Ottawa found that residents were split about cannabis store fronts. In a random poll of 803 residents, EKOS Research found that 48 per cent supported pot shops and 43 opposed them. Seven per cent of respondents were undecided and two per cent didn’t want to answer.
More than half of the people at Saturday’s meeting on Saturday live on Warren Avenue, a quiet, dead-end that already suffers from parking woes. Among the concerns they voiced about Superette were increased traffic congestion, illegal parking, cannabis tourists coming from far outside their neighbourhood, garbage on their lawns and store customers lining up on Warren rather than on Wellington.
Because only three shops have been approved in Ottawa, the Wellington location will draw customers from the entire region, said Elaine Ryan, who lives two doors down from the store. “People will be coming from Arnprior and Pembroke.”
At this point, whether Ottawa has pot shops or not is “spilled milk,” Ryan added. “What can we do so there’s less of an impact on residents?”
There are several possibilities.
Leiper mentioned closing off Warren Avenue to traffic on weekends using city sawhorses, as is done for street parties. Residents plan to discuss whether they want to pursue that possibility, although it presents its own complications for local traffic flow.
Leiper also pointed out that “scofflaws” on some streets had taken matters into their own hands and painted markers indicating parking spaces to discourage illegal parking. The city doesn’t do this in residential neighbourhoods, and Leiper said he had been rebuffed when he has asked about implementing it where residents were interested, but he was willing to ask again.
The city has estimated that Ottawa’s retail cannabis industry could support between 34 and 69 shops. It’s unclear how long it will take until more licenses are issued. Superette has a five-year lease on its current location, Lam said.
The big question is what the corner of Wellington West and Warren Avenue will look like three months down the road, after the novelty of the pot shop wears off, Leiper said. The councillor said he planned to observe traffic patterns around Superette and review the situation in a few weeks.
“I’ll be watching. I would like to prepare for the worst as much as possible,” he said.