Inside Southwestern Ontario's first farm-gate marijuana shop

·3 min read

St. Thomas, there's a new joint in town.

Sensi Brands Inc., a federally licensed marijuana producer, opened Southwestern Ontario's first farm-gate retail cannabis store in St. Thomas on Thursday.

At Station House Cannabis Co., the company offers what it calls a 'plant-to-consumer' experience by letting people browse through a selection of Ontario- and St. Thomas-grown products, including its best-selling pre-roll, Station House.

"We're launching our farm gate store on our property to streamline the supply chain process, bringing the plants directly to the consumer from the facility over to the store," said Tony Giorgi, founder and executive officer of Sensi Brands. "We're doing it to educate the community and destigmatize cannabis."

The farm-gate model means that, like a vineyard, consumers can come directly into the store to buy a product from the producer on-site. Giorgi said the store will show customers via video footage how its cultivation works and help them decide what product to buy.

Giorgi said Station House, located at 150 Burwell Rd., offers several products, such as pre-rolls in more than nine different strains, dried flower, beverages, and edibles. It also features plants from local craft growers and branded merchandise.

Another unique part of the store, Giorgi said, is its design. Spanning nearly 1,000-square-metres, the store was built from a refurbished shipping container to mirror a train car — a homage to the city of St. Thomas, the so-called Railway City.

The founder of six startups over more than 30 years, Giorgi began eying the expansion for Station House in April 2020, he said, choosing St. Thomas because of its proximity and access to resources like industrial manufacturing.

"With that comes a lot of skilled labour that we've been able to take advantage of," Giorgi said. "We hired 45 people within six days when we first launched."

Now one of the city's top employers, his team has grown to 70 employees, he said. "Not only are we employing that many people directly and creating jobs, but we're also engaging with a lot of ancillary businesses in the community."

Station House Cannabis Co. is the third licensed farm-gate cannabis retail store in the province and the first in Southwestern Ontario. There are more than 1,000 cannabis retail stores across the province.

"Medium and scale producers have been pretty successful at . . . what you might call a family brand," said Michael Armstrong of the Goodman School of Business at Brock University. "It's the idea that you go into a vineyard, go through the tasting, and see the barrels.

"That kind of mystique, ambience and culture is what cannabis producers hope to mimic for their cannabis products. They're hoping to get consumers kind of interested in that experience."

But, Armstrong noted, under provincial regulations, consumption lounges are not allowed in Ontario.

Ontario was the first province to allow federally licensed producers to open retail stores on-site. Though cannabis production is controlled on the federal level, distribution and retail fall under provincial regulation.

Eight producers have received a retail operator licence and three — Sensi Brands Inc., Thrive Cannabis and Medz Cannabis — have received approval and opened, according to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).

"This is the right model, we believe," Giorgi said. "Having a licensed producer direct-to-consumer relationship is a much more efficient supply chain. At the end of the day, it gets quality, locally made product at a more efficient price point than the retail model."

-The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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