BRATTLEBORO — Vermont Hempicurean owner Scott Sparks is making sure he’s ready to roll when retail cannabis sales are allowed in the Green Mountain State next year.
The Flat Street store, which sells CBD and hemp products, opened about three-and-a-half years ago and persevered through the pandemic. Sparks said he stabilized business by increasing online orders and adding new offerings.
About a year-and-a-half ago, the store began selling grow supplies such as soil, nutrients, tents, lights and other accessories. Sparks said it’s legal in Vermont to grow cannabis on a small scale.
His hope is to open a retail cannabis store in October 2022, when such sales are set to start in Vermont.
“I needed to find a place that would allow me to do all three businesses at once, and one challenge you have when you open a cannabis business is you can’t have a mortgage because it’s federally backed and cannabis is not federally legal,” he said.
Sparks either needed an investor or someone who would lease space to him. He picked out a barn in West Brattleboro, a former furniture store known as American Traders at 257 Marlboro Road.
Around the same time he found someone interested in investing, the building was purchased. Ultimately, he came to an agreement to lease space and is scheduled to relocate by the end of the year.
The first step for Sparks is to relocate Vermont Hempicurean. A separate space in the building will hold Vermont Grow Barn, which he said will allow him to triple or quadruple his inventory of grow supplies.
Vermont Bud Barn is slated to open in October 2022.
“This was part of my master plan,” Sparks said. “When I first opened everything was still in the air, but now that the legalization laws have moved forward it’s at least allowed me the ability to make some more concrete plans.”
Sparks also wants to have a grow facility, which may or may not be sited on the same property, to offer a “house brand” of cannabis. That would give him more control of pricing and the ability to a grow a strain he’d like to promote.
His plan is to have all Vermont growers providing cannabis for sales.
“I wanted a Vermont identity to my business,” Sparks said. “That’s why I specifically put Vermont in the business names and buy direct from Vermont farmers in my current business. I almost exclusively have Vermont products now.”
Sparks said the barn to house the businesses “says Vermont, to me, all over it and fits in perfectly with my current desired design scheme.” His store now has barn board on the walls and recycled tin ceilings, a “rustic industrial” look he plans to continue in the new space.
Sparks said traffic and parking will not be a concern at the new property, which is already commercially zoned.
“I just think the space for it will be great for tourists, which I see as a big part of my parking,” he said.
Exterior signs are going to be carved in wood and need to be approved by the town, Sparks said.
Eventually, he’d also like to set up an edibles kitchen. He previously worked in the food service industry.
Sparks estimates the businesses, excluding the edibles kitchen and grow facility, could require as many as 10 employees. Currently, he has one employee but had more prior to the pandemic.
His goal is to make the West Brattleboro property a destination.
“If people could look through the window to see cannabis grow, that would be cool because most people don’t get to see that,” said Sparks, who recently turned 64 years old.
“The world that I came from growing up and the way cannabis was stigmatized has dramatically changed,” he said, describing how people interested in buying cannabis now aren’t always the “stereotypical” people.
He noted how Vermont Hempicurean regularly gets customers who are interested in purchasing cannabis but don’t know it’s not legally sold at retail locations in Vermont yet. He said some come from Massachusetts, where retail cannabis is sold, thinking the quality in Vermont will be better
Even though neighboring states also will soon allow retail cannabis sales, Sparks expects Vermont will still be “a big draw” for buyers. He believes there will be a lot of interest in the Vermont brand, comparable to the craft brew industry.
“It’s kind of exciting,” he said. “It’s a brave new world. There’s a lot of challenges ahead of me.”
Sparks said the Vermont Cannabis Control Board is still setting up the rules and procedures for obtaining licenses, then the town will decide whether to approve licenses.
In the meantime, he said, he needs to build out security and software systems unique to the cannabis business as well as train employees. He also needs to find a vendor that will allow debit card transactions for cannabis in the store.