A recreational cannabis retail company has made its way to the centre of the prairies.
Spiritleaf opened its first location at 3653 Portage Ave. earlier this month. Over the summer, the company plans to open an additional five locations in different corners of the city.
Three stores will be franchises, and three will be corporate-owned, including the current Crestview location.
Inner Spirit Holdings, Spiritleaf’s parent company, was the first cannabis business to be certified through the Canadian Franchise Association Membership.
Darren Bondar, president and CEO of Spiritleaf, said he’s excited to break into Manitoba’s private retail cannabis market and can see the Calgary-based company opening more locations across the province.
"As the Winnipeg market matures, and if the customers really like us, or if there’s local entrepreneurs who want to open in their communities, we’re very much looking forward to expanding the Spiritleaf brand across the province," Bondar said.
Some of the Winnipeg franchisers own businesses in the culinary industry and were looking to branch out, he said.
Some provinces and territories don’t currently allow private cannabis retailers to do business, including N.B., N.S., P.E.I., Que., N.W.T., and Nunavut.
Spiritleaf hopes to create a shopping experience that’s welcoming and authentic to cannabis culture and history, Bondar said.
"Staff are knowledgeable and well-trained and educated to support consumers who are familiar with products but also new consumers who may want to experiment for the first time or learn about cannabis," Bondar said.
Travis Kelsch, the store manager of Spiritleaf St. James, has worked in the cannabis sector for years and recently joined this company because of its room for growth.
Kelsch’s store employs eight people.
"If any of the staff potentially have any kind of symptoms, I want to make sure that they feel comfortable enough and supported by us, so they don’t feel like that have to come to work," he said. "The biggest thing for us is making a clean, safe environment here."
He believes the store’s rustic aesthetic—a little West Coast and a little country—sets the brand apart from other retailers in the city, which trend toward a clinical look. In addition, the shop features re-claimed wood accents, plants and 60s-era iconography.
"For us, it’s supposed to be about reconnecting with nature, and then the peace, love and harmony," he said. "I think it’s really important that we have a lot of green space to show that."
The company plans to partner with local licensed producers down the line to offer craft cannabis to its clientele in addition to the big national brands, Kelsch said.
"I think the future in cannabis is getting small craft grows," Kelsch said. "We’re Winnipeggers. We always want to focus on the community roots."
Spiritleaf was the first cannabis company in Canada to pass the milestone of opening 80 retail locations.
According to Inner Spirits’ website, the business expects to operate over 100 or more stores by the end of this summer.
The Metro community journalist
Katlyn Streilein is the community journalist for The Metro.