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When travelers walked through Prince George Airport in British Columbia this summer, Owen Ritz and Reed Horton imagined them browsing and buying more than sweets and duty-free trinkets.

The American roommates-turned-business partners hope passengers will stop by Copilot, a cannabis store they are seeking permission to open and which they say will be the world’s first airport cannabis store.

“Our goal from day one has been to create a differentiated retail experience that stands out from any store you might see downtown,” Ritz said.

Airport stores aren’t new to most retailers, but cannabis stores are rarely, if ever, seen in aviation hubs, so Copilot is a sign of the new territory that cannabis stores are looking forward to. enter.

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In recent months, they have popped up in malls, gas stations and next to breweries. Some, like BC pot retailer Seed and Stone, are even planning to open virtual dispensaries in the metaverse – an immersive, emergent digital world.

The push to enter these spaces comes more than three years after Canada legalized recreational cannabis. Since then, jar shops have dotted many cities – Ontario alone had 1,115 stores as of September last year – and have clustered so tightly in areas like Toronto’s Queen Street that some are calling for legislation to dictate proximity one another.

Proximity is intensifying competition between stores, and some observers are predicting closures are on the way as entrepreneurs realize that owning a pot store is not a guaranteed source of income, when you’re in a crowded market.

“The whole industry completely misunderstood what was going to happen because they thought the only obstacle was legalization and once we’re legal people will just buy,” said Joanne McNeish, a professor specializing in marketing at Ryerson University.

But penetrating airports and malls could reduce some of the disappointment by helping businesses stand out from other brands with a store on every corner and catering to time-conscious customers.

“For a user, that might make it a lot more convenient,” McNeish said.

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She thinks these places also help de-stigmatize cannabis for people who still see the substance as a hobby for smokers or who are intimidated by marijuana culture and terminology.

“If they’re walking around Sherway Gardens and stumbled across it, it might be a little less daunting to get in,” said Justin Farbstein, Tokyo Smoke’s vice president of business development.

“It could feel safer and more accessible.”

This location is part of why Canopy brought Tokyo Smoke cannabis stores to malls through a partnership with Edmonton Oilers owner The Katz Group.

Now, there are Tokyo Smoke stores in eight malls, including the Eaton Center in Toronto, the Rideau Center in Ottawa and Devonshire Mall in Windsor. At least three more are on the way.

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In the few months they’ve been open, Farbstein noticed that shopping had a “slight bias” toward edibles and beverages, but didn’t see any particular demographic flocking to the store more than others.

The company also has stores at a gas station in Scarborough and next to Cool Beer Brewing Co. in Toronto.

In an effort to stand out, High Tide Inc. also goes beyond the busy streets.

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“On Queen Street you have a group of stores and they are all competing with each other and there is simply no single advantage for one retailer,” said chief executive Raj Grover.

It targets large commercial areas with anchor tenants like grocers, liquor stores or Costco, as Hide Tide can usually get cannabis exclusivity there, but it also dips into malls by opening Canna Cabana stores. at the St. Vital Center in Winnipeg and the Prairie Mall in Alberta.

These locations will resemble Hide Tide’s 113 stores, but leverage more kiosks and digital lockers for faster browsing, ordering and pickup.

Their locations will also be chosen to avoid attracting children.

“Mall management sometimes isn’t too keen on locating a cannabis store where there’s a food court or where families gather, so it can be a bit more difficult than locating it. on the street,” Grover said.

The trickiest part of opening malls, Farbstein said, is making sure security cameras track every step of cannabis deliveries’ journey from loading dock to store shelf — a requirement. for all pot shops.

At the airport, there are even more challenges because travelers cannot board flights departing from Canada with cannabis. Copilot plans to ask customers where they’re heading and remind people they can’t fly overseas on pot.

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Several airlines believe that these measures are not sufficient and fear that an airport store could encourage the consumption of cannabis before the flight and on board. Air Canada and WestJet have urged Prince George City Council not to allow pot shops at airports.

Horton called their concerns “really valid” and said Copilot had “productive” discussions with the airlines to ensure they could work together.

“We want to improve the passenger experience, not make it worse,” he said.

But even Grover is hesitant about airport pot shops.

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“I wouldn’t rush to airports,” he said.

“Cannabis in airports may be pushing the envelope yet again because it’s so new and we want to be aware of the public reaction.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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