Boothbay’s longtime medical cannabis store Highly Cannaco opened as a recreational store next to the current location Sept. 4. Owner Jan Martin said the move was over a year in the making waiting for bureaucracy to play out, cannabis inventory to grow and for renovations to the new store front to wrap up.
“The walls are still a little bare and we were racing to get up by Labor Day,” said Martin. “We're kind of growing into the space as far as artwork and getting a little more pizzazz in here.”
To enter Highly’s new storefront, the customer must have their identification ready at the door where receptionist Gabe Taylor inspects it through a camera. When the person enters, Taylor inspects the identification up close and checks the customer in. On the right of the reception desk, the customer sees the retail counter, registers and products; however, the left is what draws the eyes: a wall with three windows overlooking a large room with cannabis plants in varied stages of growth.
The three windows will eventually have informational panels and literature on the life cycle of the typical cannabis plant, and cultivation and preparation for sale, said Martin. Unlike most cultivators, Highly grows a living soil as opposed to coco or generic bagged soil. Martin said the ability to market cannabis as organic and for it to “actually be organic” is a high selling point, but being able to show that process builds trust with customers.
Martin said the novelty of the three-window view is another plus for marketing as countless customers have not been able to resist the temptation of a selfie or group picture with the unique backdrop. Many of those people have been 50 or older. Taylor said in the days since opening, a large share of customers have been toward the latter end of the Baby Boomer generation.
“They’re coming in and saying 'I want CBD' or 'I want gummies' or tinctures,” said Taylor. “We've seen people from Virginia, Maryland, all over the place and that's just today. It's been a pretty diverse crowd. It's refreshing.
Showing cultivation is a point of pride for Martin, who said it is rare in Maine. The room is outfitted with high-tech LED lights, lab-grade panels and epoxy sealed floors, and all employees servicing the plants change into scrubs, lab shoes and hairnets, he said. “It's a natural clean-room in here … We go above and beyond with everything you would expect of a germ and microbe-free facility.”
Martin explained the stages of the plants in the cultivation room, how cuttings, or clones, of “mother plants” are handled, put into a rotation and pruned for maximum canopy in preparation for the flowering room. When the staff gets ready to reset a room, one row is transplanted into the flower room and the clones will get rotated closer to the door and stay in for four weeks before rotating out.
The mother plants are a result of years of genetics research, he said. They can live indefinitely if taken care of properly, but for the sake of variety most are eventually removed making room for new trials since the building cannot fit dozens of strains. Right now, there are 16 mothers, but only five will be around for a long time because genetics are the name of the game, he said. “And we're always hunting for more genetics.”
Professionalism is also more than optics for a young industry enduring generations of stereotypes, said Martin. All employees are professional, sober on the job and strive to be experts in their field, he said. “No one can be under the influence when they're at work. Establishing professional retail goes a long way to making customers feel comfortable and wanting to come back and shop more, maybe bring their friends, and kind of get rid of the stigma of what people associate with the dispensaries of the late 90s and early 00s in California which were, uh, a little rough around the edges.”
Martin said the Boothbay region is anything but rough around the edges: With everything the region has to offer, Highly Cannaco is that one attraction which might sway anyone wracked with indecision about whether to visit Boothbay or Bar Harbor, Camden, or any other tourism competitors. With locations in South Portland and Auburn and a future location in Woolwich, Martin said the premier customer service and product will hopefully draw even more to the region who have already had the Highly experience.
“People who shop here don't want to come in every six months and see the same exact menu. You go to the bar and they always have Bud Light, the daily driver, and we do have a few what we call the ‘daily-driver strains,’ but we also have variety just like a bar always has a new tap every couple months. Variety is the spice of life and we know there’s always a way to provide something better, something tastier, better yielding, higher THC potency … and that’s what we’re all about.”