High Art: Stiiizy In Downtown LA Redefines the Reefer Retail Experience
Free Book Preview Cannabis Capital
Not that long ago, visiting a dispensary meant handing over your ID, waiting your turn in a holding area, then being ushered through a metal door by a gun-toting guard while security cameras monitored you like you were a common trespasser. Sure, you got what you needed, but it kind of felt like a conjugal visit between you and your new batch of edibles.
Well, the face of dispensaries is rapidly changing, from the Apple-esque ethos of MedMen to the exclusivity of Barneys’ The High End. The latest and largest to decorate the LA landscape, Stiiizy (rhymes with “easy”) takes its own unique approach, planting its flagship store on the outskirts of the downtown arts district and designing a customer experience that celebrates that connection.
“We wanted to create experiential retail in the cannabis space,” explains Elisabeth Baron, Chief Marketing Officer of Stiiizy’s parent company, Shryne Group. “You come in, you’re exposed to iconic LA artists, and then consumers can experience their own kind of art.”
Indeed, from the moment you leave the industrially drab parking lot and enter the 125,000 square foot structure — 6500 square feet of retail space, with roughly 100,000 more allotted to cultivation and distribution, and another 22,000 for manufacturing — art takes center stage. Visitors are greeted by a trippy, two-sided Instagram pod that invites interaction.
“It’s a discovery for them,” says Stiiizy Co-Founder James Kim. “It’s a whole different experience, reflective of what you might think of when you’re smoking cannabis.” Works from street artists like Risk and Mister Cartoon, now a tattoo artist whose client list includes Kobe Bryant, Beyonce, Dr. Dre and Justin Timberlake, adorn the lobby walls; a neon tunnel leads to four futuristic-looking retail pods, each offering an identically wide array of products; a massive mural from Retna, another LA-based street artist with a long resume of shows worldwide, stretches nearly to the top of the 35-foot high walls.
While the art will be swapped out periodically, you’ll find a more permanent collection — $50,000 worth of tattoos — on Kim himself, who got involved in cannabis after a 13-month tour of duty in Iraq. “Obviously you can’t use cannabis in the military, so we drank a lot,” he says matter-of-factly. “I could do an 18-pack by myself, so I came out with that type of habit, and then I fell in love with cannabis, and I think that’s what really changed my mental health.” Kim recalls the almost bipolar necessity of switching to “kill mode” in the military, as well as the difficulty in switching it off. “Cannabis put me at ease, it helped me stabilize my anger and my emotions. I have a lot of friends who are on Seroquel, Xanax, antidepressants…. Seroquel is powerful, my friends were drooling. I didn’t want to be brain-dead, so I refused the drugs and I fell in love with cannabis.”
And where Barneys might elegantly tiptoe around talk of cannabis, Stiiizy embraces it. The oversized retail pods each carry over 55 brands, several of which are extensions of the brand and “powered by Stiiizy” — like Biiit (edibles) and Liiit (flower). Edibles are displayed openly rather than wrapped in opaque packaging, and non-THC samples are available so consumers can test their texture and their flavor profiles. There are even plans to show off that voluminous grow space. Add to that a gift shop and accessories area, a personalization station, and a display of high-quality skateboards as a nod to Kim’s roots, and it’s not hard to see this as a dispensary with something for everyone. Says Baron, “When James was growing up, his community was super diverse — different races, different ethnicities — and cannabis was a unifier.”
So, was a dispensary that welcomes diversity all part of the plan? Ehh… sort of. Kim, who has no formal business or marketing background, says that he got inspiration from Las Vegas of all places. “When you walk into a casino, not everyone is wealthy there, but everyone is luxury in there. They’re all presented with a high-quality experience, and that’s what I wanted to bring. Even if you’re spending $20, the experience is luxury.”
Luxury, but not exclusivity; after all, this is downtown LA, not Beverly Hills. As for future expansion, the plan is to open a new location every month for the next six months, starting with one in San Francisco’s Mission District. As always, art will be paramount, and the space will reflect a personal vision that’s authentic and idiosyncratic rather than strategic. Reflecting on how his downtown space came together, Kim says, “We were just freestyling. It wasn’t about focus groups, I don’t know about that stuff. I just wanted to make something cool for my friends.”