Opening a new business is almost always a challenge, especially in a small town. When that business is the first of its kind, in a field that has only been legalized relatively recently, it adds another layer of uncertainty. Throw in a worldwide pandemic only a few weeks after the business opens, which has many potential customers locked down at home, and you have all the ingredients for a less than auspicious beginning.
“There wasn’t a drop-off after COVID-19, but there was a loss of potential,” says Sherri Zigarlick. She and her son Jake own and operate Cynders, Clinton’s first legal cannabis store, which opened on Jan. 21, 2020. “It was the middle of winter, when nothing really happens around here, so for us it was a good time to open. We could get all the bugs out.”
She says that the first few weeks went amazingly, especially considering that Clinton (pop. 641) is a very small town in a rural area. “All of the motels were full due to [workers at] the Big Bar slide site, and they were very generous with us. And it’s a cute little community that’s been super supportive through the whole process.
“When the pandemic started, it pretty much closed all the bars and restaurants, and the streets rolled up, so we cut back our hours. And it was just as we were supposed to be picking up and going into summer, getting the rodeo and parade crowds and all the things we’re not getting.”
The process Zigarlick mentions was a lengthy one. She moved to Clinton in 2015 after purchasing property in the community two years earlier, had the idea for the cannabis store in 2017, and began the application process to open Cynders in October 2018, just as the sale of cannabis was legalized across Canada. Fifteen months later the doors opened, and Zigarlick says that many local customers appreciate the convenience of having a store close by, rather than having to make the long trip to either Williams Lake or Kamloops, where the closest stores were located.
Clinton has an older population, and many people are looking more closely at products made with cannabidiol oil (CBD), which is derived from cannabis but does not contain the chemicals that create a “high”. Many people use CBD products for pain relief, and Zigarlick says that they’ll be looking more at that aspect of the business.
“CBD doesn’t seem to be quite as taboo for older folks, and they’re getting that it works without the side effects. We’re seeing that picking up, and it’s an aspect we’re going to have to expand on as the government brings out more products.”
Cynders has also moved into edibles, which were legalized in October 2019, but Zigarlick says that it can be difficult to order product, whether it’s CBD or edibles.
“Chocolates are in abundance, but there seems to be an issue supplying gummies, which people enjoy. About a quarter of the business is edibles, and they’re coming out with more, but it’s a supply issue. We have two cases of two different beverages that we got in recently, and we may not be able to get them again for three or four more orders.”
She adds that it isn’t a case of Cynders having difficulty because they’re in a rural community.
“It’s for everyone. It’s not urban or rural. Suppliers and growers supply [products] to a government warehouse, and there’s a government menu that every store gets to pick from. We all order from that, so everyone has the same supply issue.”
The uncertainty means that Zigarlick is always checking the menu. It allows her to spot items she wants that might not be there long, but each separate order means an additional shipping charge.
“Something will pop up for one day and then be gone. If you’re ordering one thing because it’s there and might not be there again you get charged a shipping fee for it, but if you put in a decent order every week you only get one delivery fee, so it creeps up on you.”
Cynders is located in the former thrift shop building known far and wide as the Blue Barn, and Zigarlick says some people still don’t know that the site has changed.
“People come in thinking it’s still a thrift shop. They haven’t been here for years, and go ‘Oh, this isn’t what I thought it was’.”
She and Jake spent a lot of time renovating the building to make it welcoming. “When you walk in it’s like walking into a home. We have plants and nice chairs, and people feel comfortable hanging out and talking.”
She and her staff are there to provide information and advice for people who might not know much about the products. “A lot of older people have never smoked cigarettes, let alone pot, and if they’ve never smoked then they won’t smoke pot, but we have edibles and oils. For people who want CBD, we can’t give medical advice but we can say ‘So-and-so uses this for his hand and says it makes his arthritis better.’
“We ask people for their advice and opinions, so we can pass it on. We try to make the store comfortable so anyone can come in and chat. We have people come in and talk who don’t buy anything.”
With restrictions around COVID-19 being loosened, Zigarlick says business is starting to increase. “More people are passing through. I think they’re feeling ‘Yay, we’re free!’ The evenings are longer and lighter, people are staying out later, and the antique stores [in Clinton] have just reopened, which is a huge boon.
“We had nothing to stop people, so things should start picking up.”
Customers will be pleased to know that a popular feature of the store remains in place: Violet, Jake’s dog. She is the official shop dog, who greets customers at the door, and shoppers are encouraged to snap a picture with her, then use the hashtag #ImetViolet to share their visit on social media. Zigarlick notes that Violet enjoys her “work” so much that she will often make her way to the shop, unaided, from Jake’s house even when the store isn’t open.
“People still say ‘We didn’t know you were here!’” she adds. “We’re trying to get the word out. But it’s definitely been fun, and we’ve met so many people. It’s been amazing.”