Owning and operating one store is enough for most entrepreneurs. Not Will Chaar.
The 37-year-old Orléans native is opening seven High Ties Cannabis Dispensaries across Ottawa. And if they do well, he'll add more.
High Ties cannabis boutique opened at 825 Notre-Dame St., in Embrun, and on 1264 Wellington West last week. The remaining five stores - at 175 Montreal Rd., 2284 Tenth Line, 2122 St. Joseph Blvd., 769 Bank St. and 484 Rideau St. - are scheduled to open by the end of the month.
“Look, I'm an ambitious, hard-working guy,” Chaar admits. “Not many people would open this many stores this fast, but we're doing something different. The number of cannabis stores is rapidly expanding in Ottawa. However, rural areas are under serviced.”
Judging by the line of customers outside his Embrun store, some who commuted from as far away as Casselman, Winchester and Russell, Chaar may have good reason to feel optimistic.
“I wanted to build stores that my mom and sisters would feel comfortable in, where folks not used to buying cannabis can be educated by a budtender who will remember them as a welcome guest. We want to create the next level cannabis experience in Ottawa.”
Even though selling pot has been legal in Canada since 2018, the retail industry is anything but a free-wheeling, open market.
In Ontario, cannabis retailers have to source marijuana solely from Ontario Cannabis Stores (OCS), the provincial agency that tightly regulates the cannabis industry.
OCS also enforces guidelines that prevent retailers from displaying cannabis and cannabis-infused products. With so many cannabis products oils, edibles, gummies, beverages, CBDs, vapes and pills currently available, shopping can leave the first-time buyer feeling confused and even intimidated.
Budtenders dressed in Prohibition-era street clothes make the process easier.
“We can't be seen doing anything that seems like we're promoting marijuana,” Chaar explains. “But its early days, and the way this business is growing.”
“Most of our customers are women in that 40-65 age range,” Chaar says. “They feel safe here, and they enjoy the educational component of the store experience. It's like a sommelier at a restaurant recommending the wine that pairs best with your meal. We guide our guests through the experience.”
The Canadian cannabis industry has grown dramatically since it was legalized in October, 2018. Sales in 2020 totalled $2.6-billion, up 120 per cent from 2019, and the trend is expected to double in the next 24 months as buyers abandon the black market and new cannabis users come on board. To keep up with demand, OCS is processing up to 30 retail licenses a week.
With that much potential on the table, Chaar is thinking ahead. He purchased an old water treatment plant from Russell township in 2019. There, he plans to grow his own cannabis, if and when OCS gives them the green light.
“We've been advocates for a long time,” says Chaar, who began using medical marijuana to relieve pain from a carpal tunnel and tendonitis from years working as a plasterer. “You have to be an advocate, a pioneer to be in this business this early in the game.”
In the meantime, Chaar is banking on personal service and building connections with the community will help his bottom line.
“My parents hated marijuana before it became legal, but now, they use CBD topicals for their aches and pains. Imagine! Who knows how far this will go?”