Customers line up outside Purple Star on Mission Street. (Corey Browning/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Customers line up outside Purple Star on Mission Street. (Corey Browning/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Dispensaries a rare bright spot in a dark economy as customers stock up

Many cannabis retailers adapting with expanded delivery services, curbside pickup

Cannabis retailers, declared essential amid the pandemic, may be among the few businesses in The City that have managed to maintain relatively stable sales.

Though a few stores reported steep declines, most of the dozen or so shops The Examiner contacted this week said that business has remained steady, and in some cases they have even had increased sales.

Despite foot traffic being down, dispensaries said customers on average are spending more and utilizing delivery or online order options.

“People are leaving the house less and stocking up more when they do,” said Conor Johnston, co-owner of Berners, a cannabis store on Haight Street. “The number of customers is down but the amount they’re spending is up.”

Between boarded up bars and boutiques, Berners draws a steady line of customers — directed to stand six feet apart — on any given afternoon. The scene on Mission Street in front of Purple Star is similar, with the addition of cars lined up for the dispensaries’s curbside pickup option.

Of course that’s with a very limited number of customers allowed in stores at a time — one per register open, in accordance with The City’s guidelines.

Customers line up outside Berner’s on Haight Street. (Corey Browning/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Customers line up outside Berner’s on Haight Street. (Corey Browning/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

The City declared cannabis stores essential after briefly requiring them to close in the initial shelter-in-place order issued by Mayor London Breed last month. Gov. Gavin Newsom designated cannabis as essential later in March, allowing cannabis stores and their supply chain to continue operation.

And with the stress of dealing with the pandemic, some are feeling the need for weed, now more than ever.

“This situation has been unlike any other,” said Tyler R., who says he uses marijuana to cope with extreme anxiety. “I find myself smoking to have a better grasp on the reality at hand.”

“I refuse to take pills and I don’t drink, so weed is a legit essential,” he said.

Aj Prasaguet, managing partner at Mission Cannabis Club, says the majority of his customers use marijuana to cope with anxiety or to deal with other illnesses.

“We’re thankful that we’re open and were still able to take care of everyone and give them what they need,” said Prasaguet. “It gives people the ease that’s needed with so much uncertainty right now.”

The stores, as with other businesses allowed to remain open, must follow a set of guidelines designed to decrease the spread of COVID-19.

City officials issued a list of instructions at the beginning of the city-wide shutdown. They include a ban on smell samples, stringent sanitizing regimens and social distancing rules . Many stores have gone further, some cutting hours, implementing touchless payment systems and requiring customers to order online before coming to the store.

Some dispensaries are also rolling out delivery options for the first time.

Moe Greens and Mission Cannabis Club and set up delivery services in recent weeks, while Urbana, Project Cannabis SOMA and Berners are expected to start soon. They will join a host of others who already deliver— Purple Star, Basa Collective, MediThrive, Mission Organic, Apothecarium and Green Door.

“We had to create a delivery service overnight,” said Prasaguet of Mission Cannabis Club, where sales had dropped by 50 to 60 percent due to a loss of foot traffic.

“It’s definitely taken a toll on us,” he said. “The main goal for us is just to get through this and keep all of our staff.”

And unlike other businesses suffering amid the pandemic, cannabis stores, which are not recognized by the federal government as being legal, are slated to be largely left out of the $2 trillion CARES Act.

Not to mention the 4/20 sales boost dispensaries can usually count on will likely be smaller than usual, as celebrations of the industries largest holiday are canceled around The City, including Golden Gate Park’s annual 4/20 celebration at Hippie Hill.

Even as business remains steady for some, with the full economic impacts of the coronavirus shutdown yet to sink in the path forward for The City’s cannabis stores remains hazy.

cbrowning@sfexaminer.com

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