How Evergreen, Vancouver’s First Legal Cannabis Store, is Coping with Coronavirus

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Jeremy Milloy, who teaches in the Canadian Studies Program at Mount Allison University. He discusses the impact coronavirus is having on Canada’s legal cannabis system. 

Vancouver is the epicentre of Canadian marijuana culture. It’s also the city where drug user activism is most visible, and where Canada’s first legal safe consumption site opened. Points checked in with Mike Babins, proprietor of Evergreen, Vancouver’s first legal cannabis store, to see how he, his staff, and his clients were handling this extraordinary situation. 

Tell me about your store. 

We’ve always been known as Vancouver’s “Mom N’ Pop Pot Shop”. We opened September 2015 as a medical dispensary. We were the only shop in the city that tested everything before it went on the shelf. When legalization came, we liquidated all our product and stayed open selling accessories as a way to keep paying our staff. We got our license on Christmas Eve 2018 and opened on January 4th, 2019, as Vancouver’s First Retail Cannabis Store.

When did you first start thinking that COVID-19 would impact what you do? 

We were watching the news daily, figuring out what we would do in all the possible scenarios. In the end we’ve been making it up as we go along, tweaking our system regularly. From the customer feedback and positive social media posts it seems like we’re doing a good job!

How did you start preparing to stay open? Were you shut down at any point? 

At first we only let 5 people in the shop at a  time and stopped allowing people to smell samples, then it switched to 3 people at a time… then we started getting serious.

Screenshot 2020-04-29 10.12.09

From Evergreen’s Instagram account

What has your business done to operate safely? To protect staff and customers? 

The province allowed some amendments to their rules which helped us out a lot. Here is how we currently operate:

Check the menu online www.ecsvan.ca

Phone or email in your order.

Line up outside (2 meter intervals)

When you get to the front, our door is open but covered in plastic (like in E.T.). The staff member is sitting at a desk 2 meters back from the door (they have a little mic and speaker so you can hear them). Tell us your name, and then tap your card on the debit terminal waiting at the door. We then hand you your product in a lacrosse stick. 

Screenshot 2020-04-29 10.14.33

From Evergreen’s Instagram account

How has your relationship with civil authorities been during this public health emergency? 

Great, they have been very helpful and without bothering them we have stayed in regular contact.

How do staff feel about working in the store right now? 

Two staff members are considered high risk so they are working from home (web updates, social media etc). The rest are all happy and safe. We have an agreement where we only interact with each other and whomever we live with. If anyone is feeling stressed or burnt out they can take extra days off no questions asked. Staff are also getting hazard pay. We don’t allow daily purchases. Anyone buying a preroll is informed that they should stock up as we will refuse service if they come back tomorrow for another preroll.

How are your customers doing? Any changes in who is buying or buying patterns?

Customers are very thankful that we are open. And we’re getting lots of new customers as well. I think at a time like this people are realizing the importance of knowing the product is sanitary. Our menu has adjusted quite a bit. We only carry one or two “premium” products (over $40 for 3.5) the bulk of our product is standard ($30-40 for 3.5) and value (ounces for as low as $115, half ounces for $60-80, eighths starting at $18, quarters starting at $35). The Licensed Producers (Canada’s legal cannabis operations) have really upped their game with value product. High quality BC bud packaged within the last two weeks.

Any funny, surprising, positive, negative, or challenging experiences that have stood out? 

It sucks that we can’t play with our doggie visitors anymore, we miss being able to speak with customers on a personal level. We have been raising funds for PHS (Portland Hotel Society), who help out the Downtown Eastside. Response has been great! Even though we are all struggling financially it is really touching to see how many people want to help out those in need.

What have you learned about the Canadian cannabis industry during the pandemic?

The most important thing we’ve confirmed is that all the LPs marketing, coming up with cute names, packaging etc are useless. In the end the public wants good weed at a good price. They are willing to pay more for higher quality but that means actually nicer buds: not an endorsement from the Tragically Hip or Snoop Dogg. The public in BC / Vancouver / Kitsilano especially are extremely informed. I told the reps from day one what we needed, and now this is just proving we were right.

The other big thing we’ve realized is now that they have proven they can sell quality product for a low price there is no turning back. They can’t suddenly double their prices when this is all over…

Have you learned anything about your business from this experience? 

It’s a bigger deal than anyone really thought, we didn’t just pull a scam to be allowed to stay open – Evergreen is an important part of the Kitsilano community and we are very proud to be here.