Gotham in Time Out
Photograph: Josh Andrus for Time Out New York. Full article on Time Out is here.
As NYC’s first luxury cannabis and cultural store, Gotham doesn’t just sell marijuana; instead it also stocks art, housewares, candles and fragrances. Find the shop in the Bowery at 3 East Third Street. Founder and CEO Joanne Wilson said the store set out “to change the narrative around what it means to partake in cannabis in your life, that it is more of a lifestyle. It is not a transaction.
Gotham also partners with STRIVE NYC, which helps people who face barriers get jobs.
We sat down with Gotham’s CEO Joanne Wilson and the vice president of marketing Geraldine Hessler to reflect on the business so far.
What has your first year been like so far?
Wilson: Insane. It’s just been a rollercoaster. When we have all these grand ideas of things we can do and we can execute, it’s like, of course, we can do all these things. We have a great team. But here’s the issue: You’re dealing with a highly regulated product. You’ve got to stick to the rules, you’ve got to stick to the law that constantly sort of changes. You’re competing with an insurmountable group of illegal stores and landlords that don’t want to rent to you because it’s cannabis and banks that don’t want to give you money because it’s cannabis. It’s not easy.
Hessler: The cannabis market is full of ups and downs. There’s always something changing. The goalposts are always traveling in different directions. One of the most important things we’ve been able to do is a pivot based on what’s happening in the world of cannabis, but at the same time, stay true to our brand and who we are. We classify ourselves as a cannabis concept space; it’s more than just a dispensary.
Wilson: The one thing that I did not expect is the lack of the law taking out the illegal stores. They’re everywhere. There’s anger particularly among parents. There’s the lack of the state distributing that information out to the public through PSAs or conversations or advertising or media. I don’t think that I thought that my biggest competition would be the illegal market.
Why is it so important that NYC has welcomed dispensaries?
Wilson: If you look at the data for New York State, which appears to be the largest group of smokers in the country, how much revenue will be driven into this state because of cannabis. That includes jobs, social equity, all the things. As a dispensary owner, because of all of the history, we feel we’ve done the right thing, we have a very diverse group of people at the top and in the store. Everyone who is full-time in New York, that’s 30 hours or more, you get full-time health care, you don’t have to buy into the system. And we’re doing in-house training to teach people about finance for their own personal needs. So all of these things that I will hope that other owners of businesses do in our future. And I think it’s just good for New York State.
Hessler: So much damage was done with the war on drugs. By making cannabis legal in New York, it allowed people to consume. It’s so important. It’s a plant, it’s not a drug. Cannabis being legal is another step in the right direction.
What would you change about the process?
Wilson: I would change the way the whole thing was set up. The Office of Cannabis Management is set up in a way that there’s oversight on so many different angles that I’m not so sure they should have oversight of. I think that it has been too heavy-handed, that there hasn’t been enough power from the governor, or even different entities that usually get involved in that. So they have a tremendous amount of responsibility in a brand new industry, which is heavily regulated by the federal and the state governments. I think that that has created some of the laws that were made around it and the slow rollout of how this works, even where things are located, who gets the licenses. I think they all had good intentions and still have good intentions, but we could have learned a lot from other states in how we went about this.
How are you doing your dispensary differently?
Wilson: It’s a lifestyle, it’s a concept store. We source in Europe, we source in Japan, there are things in our store you can’t buy anywhere else. Our people are insanely well-versed and we hear that from everyone that walks in the door. They have to go through a very rigorous program that is taught internally, so they really understand the product and how they’re selling to whatever the needs are on the other side. It’s a store that has also created community. We have events all the time and we see people return to the events. It’s a place where you just kind of want to hang out. It feels good, it doesn’t feel transactional.
What are your most popular products?
Wilson: There’s always new products, so it depends on the week. The Gotham private-label CBD balm blows off the shelves. We have a particular incense match we can’t keep in the store. We do really well with fragrances and candles. The products are pretty equal in sales of vapes, gummies, and pre-rolls.
What is the most exciting part of your role?
Hessler: The campaign we launched in October was super exciting. It’s our “Say High” campaign, which leans into legalization in New York. “Say High” meaning come in and say hi at Gotham. “Say High” meaning it’s legal, you don’t have to hide what you’re doing anymore. In addition to that, when you say something out loud, you kind of take ownership of it. We are embracing this high lifestyle, this cannabis culture, this new way of cannabis existing in New York.
What is next for cannabis in NYC?
Wilson: One of the things the state should have done and still can do is they gave all these people golden tickets with no capital. I feel that New York state should have created a $400 million fund, that they backed every single loan at 5%. At that level, a bank would have backed it. And if they end up not succeeding, that license goes back to the state and they sell it at whatever the price is at that point. I think the state would make money back in spades. The amount of jobs that would create for multiple people and multiple success for business owner dollars is worth every single penny. And they didn’t do that.
What about for Gotham?
Wilson: We applied for two more licenses, and we hope that we get them and that we open.
What is your favorite way to enjoy cannabis?
Hessler: I have a lot of ways. I love edibles for sleep or just relaxing at home. In the summer, I’ll go for a long run and then crack open a cannabis seltzer. Tinctures are great for sleep. I do love pre-rolls; my favorites are the pre-roll mini packs.
Wilson: I’m old school. I still like to smoke a joint, and there is something communal about that, too.