Big cities in Washington have seen a boom of new marijuana stores in the last few years. New shops can be found all over Seattle and even Bellingham. But not every store’s goal is to make it big in the big city.
Smuggler Brothers in Sedro-Woolley is maintaining a small-town identity in the growing world of marijuana sales. Purchasing Manager Olas Yoho said one of the most unexpected aspects of being in a small town is hearing customers’ personal stories.
“You really get to know the reason people are seeking our products, whether it’s going through a breakup or [losing] a loved one,” Yoho said.
At its Highway 20 location, Smuggler Brothers is also within walking distance to Peace Health United General Hospital. This means some customers come straight to the store after an appointment and talk to staff about their prognosis.
“We recently have had multiple customers announce that they’re cancer-free,” Yoho said. “They will say that it was our product that helped them at least get through some of the discomfort.”
Yoho said hearing those positive stories can make the day-to- day frustrations of the business go away.
“Even if I can’t sell them a cure, at least I can sell them something that makes them feel happy,” he said.
When it comes to products that make customers happy, Yoho said Sedro-Woolley residents love keeping it local. Smuggler Brothers stocks some cannabis grown within a mile from the store’s location. Other strains come from as far away as Eastern Washington, Yoho said.
Glass for the store’s paraphernalia is also blown locally in Skagit and Whatcom counties, Yoho said. But there are some challenges, not only to having a pot shop in a smaller town, but to being in the marijuana business at all, Yoho said.
Sheer competition between stores can sometimes take away what makes the marijuana community special, he said.
“Typically, it’s almost family oriented, extremely friendly, always positive vibes,” Yoho said. “So sometimes you can get caught up in the rat race, business side of it.”
It’s a phenomenon Yoho said he thinks is more prevalent today than when the marijuana market was restricted to medical use or when it was illegal. But since Jeff and Amy Kraus opened Smuggler Brothers in October 2014, Yoho said staff has been working to make sure it is competitive so it can reach customers.
“We can’t help people if they’re not coming to our store,” he said.
The store itself has an atmosphere that Yoho said is meant to be cozy. With wooden beams crisscrossing the ceiling and a fireplace tucked among a few glass display cases, it’s almost like stepping into a cabin rather than a storefront.
“Sometimes the complaint is just that our selection is smaller than other stores. That’s because we literally will only sell our very favorite products,” Yoho said.
When it comes to the future, Yoho said if an opportunity arises to buy another license and open another location, the Smuggler Brothers team would be open to expanding. But it’s not their main goal.
“More than anything we just want to be the best hometown store we can be,” Yoho said.