Breckenridge retail marijuana shops seeing green as sales soar on first day
March 25, 2014
The lines rivaled any Black Friday, but this was no day after Thanksgiving discount deal. Rather, "Green Wednesday," the first day of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, brought out visitors and residents alike to legally purchase pot.
Breckenridge Cannabis Club (BCC), located downtown on Main Street, opened at 8 a.m. to an exuberant line. Customers high-fived each other as purchases were made, and those still waiting for their turn cheered as others made their way back down the stairs, brown paper bags in hand.
Co-owners Caitlin McGuire and Brian Rogers were up all night — not celebrating New Year's Eve, but rather, pre-packaging marijuana with their staff to get ready for the anticipated crowd. A bleary-eyed McGuire said it was her first all-nighter, something she didn't even pull off in college. But she also said it was well worth the effort, finishing a mere half-hour before doors opened.
"We're one of the few shops in the state doing a straight conversion," she said. "So there's no medical product anymore — we wouldn't have room to do both, it's pretty tight quarters."
Upstairs, two small attic rooms feature identical glass counters and five strains of marijuana on display, some sativa (more of an upper, better for daytime), some indica (used to treat pain, better for sleep). Four cashiers helped one person or group of two at a time as another employee worked on crowd control at the top of the stairs. As customers sniffed and prodded the product, eventually selecting a strain, the shop assistants pulled a black medicine bottle from drawers behind the counter — a pre-packaged gram, the most common amount people were purchasing at $25 before tax. The total price ended up at right around $31. BCC is also offering a discount to Colorado customers.
While McGuire spent a portion of her morning checking IDs at the door, Rogers was trying to coordinate a flurry of media, computer problems and the giant crowd.
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"It's been crazy, but the good kind of crazy," he said.
The inventory for retail stores had to be converted from old medical marijuana supply, since owners were not allowed to start growing for recreational marijuana until Jan. 1. As the line slowly shuffled past her seat at the open door, a chilly McGuire said while they had more product available, it wasn't ready and packaged, so she was unsure how the supply would hold up until closing at 10 p.m.
"I wasn't worried, I thought we were well-stocked, but now I don't know," she said, checking an ID from Florida.
Most out-of-state license holders were already in the area for vacations or skiing, and McGuire said she saw more Coloradans than she expected. A pair from Boulder lamented in line over how they couldn't yet get any legal retail product in Boulder of all places.
A crunchy white chocolate bar with blueberry was the recommendation of choice from assistant manager Lauren Hoover, ringing up at $18 before tax. Hoover said the store made more money in the first hours of Jan. 1 sales than they had in the last few months of just selling medical marijuana.
While the line grew outside, in temperatures approaching the teens but feeling more like zero, many in the crowd said they didn't mind the wait.
"I've been waiting in line about 20 minutes, but that's nothing compared to waiting like 30 years for this to happen," one woman from California said.
Besides the marijuana itself, customers could also purchase an array of marijuana edibles, such as truffles, mints, soda and fruit chews. A few had to be turned away as well: a man who had expired documents, another who only had a temporary license with no photo.
The big seller of the day at BCC was the Snow Cap sativa. Customers spent anywhere from $30 up to $300, with the average customer grabbing a gram or two of marijuana and an edible or two as well. All purchases were in cash, since it's difficult for marijuana stores to get bank accounts because of federal regulations. The BCC wasn't able to keep their bank account after it was found out they weren't simply a gift shop, Hoover said.
"Oh man, it's about to get so weird," one customer from Austin told his friend as they left with two full paper bags. Hoover reminded people to take it slow, since the high altitude can also have an effect.
The phone rang non-stop, a shrill sound piercing over the winding line and the documentary film crew struggling for space. Most callers wanted to know what time the shop would be open until.
At Alpenglow Botanicals up on Airport Road north of town, there was less of a line, but still a steady stream of interested parties throughout the day. The shop, roomier and on the ground floor, offered many more pipes and varieties of strains for sale than BCC, and still offered medical marijuana as well — separate from the retail product. An ATM offered convenience for customers, since purchases needed to also be in cash.
Owner Charlie Williams said he had no idea what to expect when he opened at 9 a.m. Alpenglow beat its best medical sales day in the first hour of retail sales.
"After the first day or two, we might lose some of the people who are just buying today because they can," he said. "But we're also a resort community, and we get people in from all around the country all the time."
A group of students from the University of Illinois made the long road trip to ski over winter break, but timed their vacation in order to be here for Jan. 1.
"It's crazy we can do this," one friend said as he handed over his cash to make his purchase. "I can't believe we're here right now."
At Alpenglow, 1 gram sold for $18 pre-tax, with 1/8 ounce retailing for $45. Relative to a normal day, Williams said, if sales remained steady, Jan. 1 would probably bring in three or four times the amount of a regular day. Williams is concerned, however, about all of the cash he's taking in.
"Someone is going to do something stupid, and I don't want to die doing this," he said.
The sale price of the retail product is higher than medical, but Williams said he is still ironing out the details.
"We don't want to be greedy, but we have to match the price to the supply and demand," he said.
By 3 p.m., the line at BCC had reached the end of the block, even outmatching the line across the street at Starbucks on a cold New Year's Day. More and more employees lost out on the bet they made about how much money they would make in sales that day. Everyone guessed under, though Hoover was closest.
As the day came to a close, McGuire confirmed they had more than 500 people make purchases by around 8 p.m., though many more had walked through the door. Her sales in this one day equaled way more than an average month of regular business, she said.
"We've been playing catch-up all day," she said. "We've been constantly packaging and labeling grams during the day to get them into the rooms. For my business' sake, I'd love for it to be just as busy tomorrow, but for my own personal sanity I'd love a break."
Even tourists and locals not in line stopped to take pictures of the group filling up the Main Street sidewalk, some posing for pictures in front of the crowd or the BCC sign. Friends from Georgia waited to become part of the monumental day, something they wouldn't be able to experience deep in the Bible belt. Scott, who only wanted to be identified by his first name, said he was very excited about the possibilities that awaited him at the top of the staircase.
"This is something to tell your grandchildren about," he said. "The wait, the weather, it's whatever. This is a historic day."
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