Ottawa entrepreneur Mike Diduca hopes to open a cannabis superstore this spring in a Montreal Road building now containing a Royal Bank branch.
On Sussex Drive at Rideau, one of the city’s most famous intersections, plans are afoot for a cannabis boutique called mīhī.
Elsewhere around town, new outlets of Hobo and Superette, two of the city’s original cannabis stores, could pop up as well.
That’s a hint of what to expect as the province opens up the cannabis retail trade after the initial number of shops was restricted because of a shortage of pot.
Licence applications open Jan. 6 for entrepreneurs who want to run cannabis shops.
It will be a gradual rollout, though. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario plans to start issuing licences in April at the moderate clip of about 20 a month.
Diduca plans to call his store Budroom. He is negotiating with the landlord of the bank building in Gloucester, on Montreal Road near Shefford. At about 4,600 square feet, it could be the largest cannabis store in Canada, he says. Unless, of course, someone else opens a larger one.
Diduca says he’s inspired by Planet 13, a huge, glitzy cannabis store in Las Vegas that has an interactive lotus flower on the roof and LED art on the floors. He’s planning banks of digital video walls and a conveyor belt running through the store to deliver goods from the back.
The mīhī chain that hopes to open four stores in Ottawa this spring is aiming for a calm, zen design. A model mīhī store built in Burlington, Ont., features a spare design with lots of wood.
The corporate crew behind mīhī began renting Ontario storefronts more than a year ago, when the Conservative government announced it was ditching plans for cannabis outlets run by the LCBO in favour of privately run shops. But plans by mīhī and other entrepreneurs were stalled when the government announced that the rights to apply for the first handful of licences would be awarded by lottery.
The mīhī chain has held on to four leases in Ottawa and plans to open stores here as soon as licences are awarded, said Steffen Schenk, a company vice-president.
Besides the storefront on the ground floor of the condo building on the west side of Sussex at Rideau, the company has rented a space at the College Square mall on Baseline Road at Woodroffe Avenue and unspecified locations in the Bells Corners and Heron Gate neighbourhoods. The company hopes to have 16 stores open across Ontario this spring, Schenk said.
Ottawa now has three cannabis stores: Superette, Hobo and Fire & Flower. They are run by lottery winners under licensing arrangements with retail corporations that hope to expand.
Hobo, a B.C.-based chain owned by the Donnelly Group, initially hopes to open 10 more stores in Ontario, vice-president Harrison Stoker said. A “portion” of the stores will be in Ottawa. “I can’t give it away,” he says with a laugh, adding the company is negotiating leases. “But we love Ottawa.”
Superette is also scouting leases and plans to apply for licences for one or two stores in Ottawa, said Drummond Munro, company president and chief vibe officer. Its goal is 10 new stores in Ontario in 2020, he said.
A spokesperson for Fire & Flower wasn’t immediately available for comment, but the retail chain with stores in Western Canada has long planned to open more stores in Ontario.
There’s no limit to the number of people or corporations that can apply for cannabis store licences in Ontario.
However, the initial fever pitch of excitement over cannabis retail appears to have been tempered, said Mark Asfar, a lawyer at Momentum Law in Ottawa who specializes in cannabis regulations.
The province killed some of the appetite among investors by introducing the lotteries, leaving entrepreneurs who had invested in business plans and leases hanging, Asfar said.
Asfar initially had a couple of dozen clients eager to open cannabis stores in Ottawa, but only about half a dozen are still interested, he said.
However, he said he was optimistic there would be several new stores in Ottawa starting this spring, and eventually maybe even some by mom-and-pop operators, since the financial requirements imposed on entrants in the last lottery are not part of the new licensing regime.
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