What it's like to be an Ontario cannabis retailer during the pandemic

Apr 8 2020, 3:36 pm

Written for Grow by Rich Ledesma, a director at Shiny Bud, a Toronto-based retailer of curated cannabis products and accessories.

The COVID pandemic is affecting every aspect of our lives as all of us try to flatten the curve and keep our communities safe. I’m proud of how everyone seems to be handling the crisis: governments, businesses, and individuals. But as we all figure out how to balance safety with  “regular” life, there have been a number of contradictory regulations that have led to confusion — and I’ve been right in the middle of it all.

In March, the Province of Ontario began to create policies to enforce social distancing. It started with the closure of publicly-funded schools and was quickly followed by a state of emergency. People suspected one was coming, but no one knew exactly what it would involve — and which categories of retailers would be affected.

The good news for us was that cannabis stores were exempt; we had even gone ahead and changed the way we served customers to protect the health of our customers and our amazing staff.

For a few weeks, that was our new normal, and we coped with it pretty well. We enforced social distancing by requiring shoppers to stand two metres apart inside and outside of the store. We also purchased thousands of masks (of which we donated a portion to Humber River Hospital), which our staff members wore in the store, and we distributed free to patrons as they walked in.

On April 3, everything changed: The province reclassified which businesses were considered “essential,” with cannabis retail left off the list. Customers had less than 10 hours to shop before almost all Ontario stores were required to shut their doors.

Shiny Bud

Needless to say, that was quite a weekend for us. We went from full operating capacity to zero sales overnight. We spent the weekend wondering when — or even if — we would reopen, we panicked over the budget and how we could make things work without laying off any of our team. That was one of the most stressful 48 hour stretches of my life.

The good news is that as soon as the decision was revealed on Friday, a lot of people got to work to see if they could get the closures overturned, or at least modified. 

I was on a lot of phone calls, with many different people, who felt that the decision to close the cannabis stores — but not liquor stores or other retailers — was arbitrary and unnecessary. Of particular concern was that the click-and-collect option was the perfect solution to allow people to legally buy cannabis products and protect employee and customer health. There was simply no reason for all sales to cease.

As it turns out, this is the thinking that ultimately prevailed. 

On Monday, April 6, the province decided to maintain the ban on in-store shopping while allowing people to place their orders online and pick them up without entering stores. It was a sensible compromise that we at Shiny Bud fully support. And starting at 10 o’clock today, we were again open for business.

I could finally get a little bit of sleep.

Shiny Bud is a Toronto-based AGCO-authorized retailer of carefully-curated cannabis products and accessories. The company’s flagship brick-and-mortar store is located in the Smart Centre retail plaza at Weston Rd and Highway 401 West. Shiny Bud Inc. is based in Montreal and is privately held.