SAINT JOHN – While a head shop in Fredericton that’s operated for over 26 years gets ready to close its doors this month, other independent head shops are finding cannabis legalization to be generally positive for business.
On January 4, Things, located on Regent Street in downtown Fredericton, announced that it’s closing for good January 13. Owner Jacki Veinott cited ongoing construction in the city’s downtown as one of the reasons for the shop’s closure. But she also said the mass commercialization of cannabis accessories following legalization last October as a big cause for the store’s closure.
She said online marketplaces and bigger chains have made it difficult for small “mom and pop” head shops to stay in business.
“I was in the Irving Circle K the other day, pipes that I sell for $25, they’re selling for $10,” she says. “That doesn’t mean they’re the same quality, but most people don’t care. I can’t compete with them.”
Yet this hasn’t been the case for some other independent head shops operating in the province. For Donald McHugh, owner of Up In Smoke Shoppe in Moncton, legalization hasn’t dramatically increased business but has brought in customers who have never been in before.
“There has been an uptake in an older crowd. People more in their late 30s, 40s,” says McHugh. “Probably because it’s now legal so they said ‘sure.’ Whether they partook in it back when they were younger, I don’t know. But it really hasn’t been a whole big change, just a little bit here and there.”
Morgan Cosgrove, manager of Mister Music, which operates two locations in Saint John, noticed something similar at her shops.
“We’re doing great. We are really happy with the way things are going at this point,” she says. “There are people that come in now and say, ‘oh, I haven’t smoked in this long’ or ‘people always wanted me to smoke because I deal with pain’ but they didn’t want to because it was illegal. Now that it’s legal, they’re totally open-minded about it.”
Up In Smoke has been operating in Moncton for 15 years. It also opened a location in Fredericton five years ago. Mr. Music first opened in Saint John in 1989. Both have so far survived the rise of big box and online retailers which have impacted all kinds of small businesses globally. Both shops say their key to competing has been offering superb customer service that you can’t get elsewhere.
“We have service where the others don’t. Also for a lot of the items like vaporizers, a lot of brands don’t honour the warranty unless you buy the product from a brick and mortar store, which of course, gives us an advantage,” says McHugh.
Cosgrove says established independent retailers are informed on the products they carry and can work with customers one-on-one to find what suits their needs. It’s a very personal experience.
“Even with stores like Cannabis NB, some people really do like that they can go in and talk to someone about what they want and need and be able to get the product specific to their needs,” she says. “I find it’s the same when it comes to buying accessories. You can actually talk to someone and explain what you want and need and be able to get that.”
McHugh says he hasn’t heard of any head shops struggling because legalization specifically but says some shops, particularly newer ones, just struggle in general.
“There’s a pile of new ones of course that come up every couple years. There will be a bunch of them thinking there is tons of money in it. They just see one shop that seems to be doing pretty good and open one up,” he says. “But it’s not a mass of them going under because of legalization or online sales. They just didn’t know the market when they got into it.”
Though many shops are not seeing negative consequences due to legalization, the business still remains a competitive one, especially as more businesses enter the space.
“It’s competitive. Smaller shops at one time, especially in certain areas, got away with brutally overcharging,” says McHugh. “Now, the prices have pretty well even right across the country. It keeps you on your toes for sure.”