Change is Afoot

I am old enough to go back in time and note change. I read about the fourth-generation butcher and sole owner of Albanese Meats & Poultry on Elizabeth Street, that turned 100 years old this year. It is the last of its kind in Little Italy, NYC.

How many mom-and-pop stores stood over a hundred years ago? Over time, some of those stores became chains. People started to move to the suburbs. Door-to-door delivery of dairy products ceased. Grocery stores that carried everything began to emerge. Groceries rely heavily on pre-made products vs. the ingredients to cook at home. Over the past 100 years, how we shop, live, and consume has changed a lot.

We used to purchase our clothes at small mom-and-pop shops, too, and at one point, the sewists made them in-house. Department stores became the one-stop shop. Brands such as Gucci, Prada, and Chanel grew into lifestyle companies. Department stores responded by creating private labels to balance out the business. Stores like Gap took market share away from department stores. The high luxury brands opened stores all over the globe, eating into the department stores business. With fast fashion and technology, brands are built without creative designers. Due to the destruction this industry has created on the planet, many do not want to consume as they have in the past. What’s next?

Decades ago, much of the city was sketchy. Urban areas began to change when the artists began to find inexpensive spots in those neighborhoods to live. That brought commerce to the area, and soon, prices changed, and those who had lived there for decades were forced to leave because the cost of housing got too high.

Everything evolves. Unfortunately, NYC has been controlled by the ways of real estate owners. Many sit on their properties, and many do not want to spend money to upgrade their properties for climate change, although thankfully, local law 97 will eventually force that change. Banks have loaned countless multi-real estate owners and developers money with little skin in the game. At one point, this is going to bite many in the ass.

There is something in the air that feels as if change is afoot. From over-saturated luxury brands to the cost of commercial and residential housing not connected to what people earn, how people want to buy their wares, and where they need change. More community-oriented? More personalization? More intimate spots? And dare I say having septuagenarians run our country is beginning to feel a bit long in the tooth, no pun intended.

Shift in Marketing

Remember those days when marketing centered around print and TV ad buys? Then technology changed the way companies market to their customers. It allowed companies to target their customer wherever they hang out, particularly where you hang out online. How many of us used to be freaked out when, after having a conversation about a product or looking at buying an item on a website starts being pushed at you on Google, Instagram, or any article you read online? Now, it just seems like business as usual.

Then Covid hit. That cocaine high every single company got while all their customers were trapped inside their homes making purchases. For many struggling companies, it was a gift from the gods. Until the storm began to recede, and many were left with their pants down with debt filled with covenants that many were not able to meet. There will be more roll-ups, restructuring, closing shop, and losses in the near future.

Certainly, AI will become more and more transformative in marketing. Web 3.0 should improve customer relationships by decentralizing the process, or perhaps not. Technology will continue to change the way we do business, period. Yet, I would argue that customers have become immune to how we have marketed to them over the past decade.

Honestly, if I never hear the word CAC, customer acquisition costs, again, I will be very happy. I understood if we spent $100, we get a customer to spend $150 over one year, and the odds of them returning again and again make it worth the company’s while. However, the idea of spending tens of thousands of dollars to build a business by buying eyeballs and pocketbooks never excited me.

I have been talking to marketing experts in the last few weeks. Everyone is being forced to think about new ways to capture a sticky customer. Creating fun, engaging Instagram posts is as worthy as putting print ads where your customer reads, tossing up posters on construction sites, and building a brand from the ground up thoughtfully. There is something about the old school of doing things as people are looking to return to a less frenetic life.

Time will tell.

What A Week

There is nothing quite like the return to NYC in September. New spots are opening, the street beat is stronger than ever, the traffic returns, evenings get a bit cooler, and it feels good.

Gotham began with a photo shoot. I am excited to see how we use all this content. Rachel Bell, the head of social media and the genius behind “Hi I’m High,” put together this video on the street sets. Turn up the sound to hear.

We also hit up some of the new spots to eat in NYC. We had dinner at Chelsea Cafe, located in the updated Chelsea Hotel. As always, Sean MacPherson has an incredible sense of design and can create a vibe like no other. I can’t say much about the meal, but the room kills.

Had lunch at Fish Cheeks. It has been open for a while, and I never got there. The people behind Fish Cheeks just opened the Bangkok Supper Club in the West Village, right near me! The chicken wings are good, but the crab rice is a serious win.

Roscioli is another new spot located on the corner of King and MacDougal. There is a small shop upstairs, among multiple seating areas for those who walk in. There is something about the downstairs rooms that feels like something hidden away during prohibition. They are serving tasting menus paired with wine. Seatings are at 6 and 830. There was a bit of a flair for the drama in the cellar where we sat. I want to see what they do when the menu goes a la carte. The best thing we had was the meatballs.

We received new art pieces by Andrew Zuckerman, who worked with our farmers to create these beautiful pieces. Might have to pick up one for myself—a limited edition of ten.

On the way out east for the holidays, we stopped by the apartment building we are building at 118 Waverly in BK. It looks fantastic. Rentals will become available in late spring or early summer. Pretty exciting.

Unfortunately, I had to miss the opening of the Perelman Arts Center this week, although I can hardly wait to see a production there. Gotham Gives is proud to be part of making a much-needed cultural center in downtown NYC. And then seeing all the pumpkins and gourds at the farmers market with that nip in the air felt perfect.

I can hardly wait for the week ahead!

Follow the Money

Perhaps I have just become more cynical as I have gotten older, but watching what is happening in the cannabis space regarding the overwhelming illegal operations seems pretty simple to me: follow the money.

This past week, the US announced that they would change the guidelines of how many drinks people should consume daily. The HHS department also noted that cannabis should be rescheduled to a Schedule 3 drug. That has set off an onslaught of media hype. It will take time for the rescheduling, although the Federal Government should do the right thing and get rid of 280E immediately.

To note, Phillip Morris just bought a prominent cannabis company in Israel. Israel is way ahead of the US in research and data around cannabis.

Fewer people are drinking, fewer people are smoking cigarettes, and the companies behind those vices have bottomless pockets and lobbyists. They have no interest in losing market share or being publicly traded at a lower price. These companies are lobbying for a shift in cannabis laws as they read the future.

Some so many first-time entrepreneurs have jumped into the cannabis world. They are figuring it out as they go along. Dealing with the ridiculous heavy-handed rules and regulations and, of course, taxes. I do fear that as more money pours into the market from the big alcohol and cigarette companies, these founders will find themselves without the promise of opportunity that has been part of the narrative.

Each state is building the cannabis retail landscape differently. The multi-state operators have been able to grow just like a Walmart in some states but not all. Where will this be in ten years?

Nothing functions in this country, or anywhere for that matter, without cash. 

Getting these illegal stores up and running is not inexpensive.  There is security; there are cameras; products that are being imported illegally that seem to seamlessly show up in stores on every block in the city; there is staff; there is rent, which must be exorbitant to get a lease, and more.

When I read about any company starting to grow and making an impact, I look to see who funded it. I am sure the money behind Empire and Cookies is not on Crunchbase.  

Is it Pharma? Is it the alcohol industry? Is it lobbyists?  I have no idea, and by the look of them, I would guess that easily 70% of them are funded by one group.  

Can someone at WAPO, NYT, WSJ, Axios, or any media organizations that still take journalists seriously vs. grabbing eyeballs and slanting our political philosophies take a dive here?  

I hate to say it, but follow the money. That is how our country works, and it has become more apparent in the last few years. I challenge the top journalists to follow the money behind the countless illegal dispensaries because we obviously can’t count on our politicians, too.


Bradley Tusk, who understands politics better than most people, sent this to me over the weekend.  He wanted to know if this was too crazy to release.  I laughed out loud. It defines the NY state’s inability to run a legal cannabis business in such a smart, snarky slant that I do hope anyone reading this passes it on.



Following up on the smashing success of the more than 8,000 thriving marijuana stores across New York, the Smith Crime Family announced the opening of an exciting new retail chain – The Cocaine Store. 

Slated to open at 1,500 locations across the five boroughs of New York City, Long Island, Westchester, Rockland and Orange Counties, The Cocaine Store will offer top quality cocaine to all customers, anytime, day or night (stores will be open 24 hours).

“It just seemed like the natural next step,” said legendary racketeer Ralph Smith. “The weed shops have done so well, there’s so much demand, everyone seems so happy with it, we figured, why not give the people what they really want? We want to thank the City of New York and State of New York for making this process so frictionless – no permits needed, we don’t have to pay taxes, we can sell to anyone of any age, none of our products are regulated or inspected. It’s perfect. Capitalism at its absolute best.”

The Cocaine Store has found empty storefronts eagerly available for lease by landlords across the city and state. Landlords hailed the new retail opportunity. “Finally, things come full circle,” said Josephine Jones from the Real Estate Board of New York. “All the same crime and quality of life problems that drove our retail tenants out of business are now making a dream like the Cocaine Store finally possible. We deeply appreciate the cooperation of City Hall and the New York Police Department especially in looking the other way at the thousands of unlicensed cannabis stores we leased to organized crime families. That really gave us the encouragement we needed to partner with the Smith Family to make the Cocaine Store a reality.”

Smith family officials indicated the potential debut of additional exciting new retail concepts in the next 6-12 months including The Heroin Store, The AK-47 Store, and The Meth Market. 

For more information about The Cocaine Store, simply walk outside and odds are, one will be within a few blocks of your home, office or kids’ school. Signs displaying multiple varietals and origins of the now ubiquitous cocaine will be prominently placed on sidewalks and storefronts to help consumers access the high quality cocaine they deserve.

Talk Is Cheap

In New State, in April 2022, the first round of farmers were awarded licenses to grow cannabis. Those farms are to grow cannabis for the dispensaries that would be opening for the products that were being grown. Then, starting in November 2022, the first set of dispensary licenses were awarded. Currently, there are over 463 dispensary licenses have been awarded, and only 22 have opened.  

Yet, the illegal market has grown exponentially. The state and the city talk the talk, but their record proves grim. When Hochul talks at a press conference about how they closed an illegal dispensary in upstate NY, the only people who truly care are the consumers because they now have nowhere to go. One dispensary upstate will not make or break the farmers who are bearing the brunt of the lack of legally open dispensaries. Guarantee the illegal upstate dispensary reopened the next day.  

The city has one attempt to take Empire down, and the entire legal community cheered. They were up and doing business again that afternoon, and nothing has happened since. It is truly mind-boggling how inept our Government officials have been.

To help the farmers with their abundance of products sitting in their silos, The Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) has allowed dispensaries to partner with three farmers or more to open up a “growers showcase”. The good news is this might help the countless farmers who will probably pull the plug on growing cannabis as they are losing money. The bad news is this is an absolutely ridiculous bandaid sending all licensed dispensaries to create fire drills for them to make money and stay in business, too. The real estate market is not interested in renting to cannabis dispensaries, yet they seem to have no problem renting to illegal ones.  Why?  

People from OCM are starting to jump shit. Not shocking. A judge has slapped OCM so hard that they are now having to relook at every dispensary that has been awarded a license, although I do believe the ones that are open will get a pass. 

The illegal stores are not selling NY homegrown products. What has happened is a massive shit show. It is killing the farmers and the dispensaries, and NY State is not making money either. It is an embarrassment to the state and city.

Getting this market open effectively was a lay-up. We did not have to look much further than other states that seem more capable than NY. I am sick of talking to politicians and people about this. Talk is cheap. I am confident that I can speak for everyone in the cannabis industry as we pull our hair out, scream, yell, and are at a loss that we are desperately looking for leadership.  Can someone in the state who has been elected into office to serve the people of this state please rise to the occasion? Cannabis will eventually be a major economic factor for the state, and the lack of execution is beyond anything I have ever witnessed.

Changing Landscape of Retail

Pre-Covid, in the heydey of the start-up world, taking on debt seemed to be business as usual. But it rarely ends well when you can’t meet your debt payments.

One company that I invested in, the darling of secondary market investors, I know because I would get an email every week from someone looking to buy my shares. The good news is I sold a portion early on, getting a solid return, so the rest was just gravy. I turned down all the secondary requests. No regrets.

Fast forward, I get an email from the CEO of another company I invested in to inform everyone that the amount of debt they took on sunk the ship. The question is, what was the board thinking about taking on that much debt? Were they not reading the future landscape? Could they have cut back and got to profitability?

Last week, I read that Mitchell + Gold, a well-known furniture company, abruptly shut down. A few others in the furniture space have shut down, too. All were owned by private equity firms who supposedly could not secure more funding. Unfortunately, that is how too many companies functioned over the last decade. Not profitable, but plenty of cash to continue to grow, grow, grow. That time is over.

I have been espousing the end of department stores for years, but it appears there will be some significant downscaling or massive mergers. Will Saks and Neimans merge and have only a few stores that can produce profits? Will the large fashion brands find themselves with too many of their stores, including having that merch in department stores, start to ebb?

We have entered a genre where consumers are interested in individuality. The return to an easier life in the post-Covid world is changing consumers’ behavior. More people are starting small businesses that connect with the community.

What might happen in the months ahead in the retail world, particularly with commercial real estate owners who have taken on massive debt, will hopefully help a new generation of retailers afford the rent. What a concept!

NY Cannabis Laws

The roll-out of cannabis laws in NY, by all accounts, has been a disaster. The lawsuits will not stop. It comes down to being too many cooks in the kitchen without a chef. There is zero leadership from the Governor’s office, and the state suffers the consequences.

There are thousands of illegal dispensaries not paying their taxes and importing products from other states, which is draining the legal dispensary market, including the farmers. Over 400 dispensary licenses have been approved in the state, with only 22 open. Unclear if the continuation of giving out the majority of rights only to people who have previously been incarcerated is legal based on the original license laws that were passed. If you haven’t opened, you could lose—your golden ticket, as the courts press OCM to go back and reassess each application.

Instead of spreading the wealth, the state has gone back three times to give out more licenses to the same group without any capital to borrow to build their businesses, so many sit on the sidelines with a license and nowhere to go. In the classic American story, the Government tries to do the right thing but does not see it through to a conclusion. It appears that this might have been illegal based on the OCM regulations that they wrote.

Alcohol use is dropping among young adults as cannabis consumption grows. Cannabis is safe and highly effective for treating pain and improves cognition in cancer patients, helping with sleep, depression, and anxiety. Another study suggests that cannabis is as effective as high-THC opinions found more significant pain relief. A new Gallup poll found that American adults view cannabis as less dangerous than alcohol, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and nicotine vapes. Also, cannabis usage has not surpassed cigarette usage in the US. Another small bonus to the hemp plant is that it can pull toxins such as cadmium, nickel, and lead-contaminated environments like abandoned mines from the ground.

Yet here we are with a plant that still has a stigma. Cannabis is Federally listed as a Schedule One drug and taxed at an enormous rate, making it almost impossible to build a profitable business. Attempting to rent a space for a dispensary is difficult because landlords do not want cannabis but have no problem with alcohol.

Fifty years ago, Raymond Shafer, the former Governor of Pennsylvania, analyzed cannabis. He discovered that alcohol is much more dangerous to one’s health. That classifying marijuana as a Schedule One drug is inappropriate, and cannabis should be legal. President Nixon threw all this research under the bus because of his enemies: anti-war protestors and Black people. So they buried the report.

Finally, this week, the HHS Federal health officials are asking the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana from a high-risk Schedule I to a lower-risk Schedule III drug in the Controlled Substances Act. The cannabis community is thrilled with this. However, the process could take a long time as this opens up a massive can of worms inside the Federal Government. It would behoove the Biden administration to at least roll back 280E immediately to let the industry flourish, as there is no doubt that at one point, this will all be moot, and cannabis will be rescheduled. However, what that looks like is anybody’s guess.

Fixing this mess and leading is a slam-dunk for any politician. Just read the data. Eventually, cannabis will be the largest industry in this country. Can someone lead here?

Taking Down the Illegal Dispensaries

I have written about this countless times. The reality is very little has been done. It is utterly ridiculous and, quite frankly, embarrassing for the state and city. We should all be asking ourselves, “Where is the leadership”? Will someone only lead when something terrible happens?

Bradley Tusk, who has been part of the political landscape forever and is also a VC, writer, podcaster, and bookstore owner, was interviewed for his own podcast about his strategy for taking down illegal dispensaries.

The conversation is the first thirty-one minutes and is called “The Anatomy of a Takedown.”

Worth the time. Bradley gets it. It comes down to a few simple rules, from protests to lawsuits, but in the end, it is pretty simple: follow the money.


Arkansas recently rolled back its child labor laws so that children under sixteen do not need a work permit. Looking at the huge smile on Sarah Huckabee Sander’s face while signing that document surrounded by children who looked ashen by the decision made me cringe. She believes this eliminates the parent’s burden on getting their child a permit to work. Did she decide that after the Labor Department found over a hundred children working in a few hazardous Arkansas facilities or before?

We should all be asking ourselves why. Is it that many red states’ unemployment rates are lower than the blue states? California, not shocking since it is the size of a country, has the most robust economy.

Our borders are lined up with people leaving their countries for a better life. There are countless reasons. We have more immigrants in the United States than any other country. There will always be some evil characters, but I want to believe most of these people want to work, get their children educated, and feel safe.

We have a worker shortage crisis. There are plenty of immigrants ready, willing, and able. Many industries have had a massive loss of workers in the post-Covid retirement period. AI will not fix the teaching crisis, the bus driver crisis, the air-traffic controllers crisis, transportation workers (that means construction, too), and other industries.

In Arkansas, the children are no longer safe. Why are we not figuring out a way to process immigrants through our system and place them in states that need more of age workers? That would, in turn, build the economy.

The future of the United States, or any country, depends on the size of its workforce and the productivity of those workers. That does not mean putting 13-year-olds to work but sending them to get educated.

Arkansas is rolling us back in time, and how can we not ask ourselves why, why, why, why?