Emerald Fields finds itself in an interesting situation. It's opening as the second and final recreational-marijuana store in Manitou Springs on Wednesday, April 1, which is a big deal.
On the other hand, it feels like the dirt has already been done.
The little town fought hard over the legality of shops leading up to a November 2014 vote, but ultimately 64 percent of voters supported the industry, meaning neighboring store Maggie's Farm — opened last July — would stay in business and another could follow. (We contacted a member of the anti-marijuana campaign, Kari Kilroy, for comment on this story, but did not hear back.)
Either way, Emerald Fields plans to be anything but an afterthought. Housed in the 4,800-square-foot former home of Wild Ginger Thai Restaurant, the store is a perfect microcosm of modern Colorado. Patrons enter into a check-in area sheathed in pale beetle-kill pine, before passing into a waiting area and gift shop selling tourist swag. Covering the walls are tightly packed angular chunks of burn wood from the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, created by local Mitchell Dillman. A row of computers gives those who know what they want the chance to order at the kiosk from inventories updated in real-time and be helped separately. Alternatively, you can sign in and wait to view the goods.
Either way, you're called back into an open space that apes an Apple Store. Attendants with tablets guide "guests" around an open floor plan with accessible bud on tables in the middle, and edibles and accessories in glass cases in the corners. Director of marketing Caitlin Murphy says the store also plans to be the southern Colorado hub for Denver-based O.penVAPE and its cartridges.
"It's more engaging than going up to a counter," said Murphy last week while construction workers and contractors whirled around. "They can walk around, they can do it at their own pace, they can ask questions. If you know what you want, you can come in and do it all on your own, or come in and talk to an attendant and get your questions answered."
Those attendants ring you in from the floor, sending your order to be processed in a viewable area behind the cash registers called The Prep Kitchen. There you'll see employees in front of stainless-steel tables rolling, preparing and doing the work of the dispensary out in the open.
Murphy sees the whole free-flowing thing as key to Emerald's appeal. "The concept of openness is just what we hammered," she says. "I think that it will make the dispensary run more efficiently, and I think it becomes a more enjoyable experience for people that way."
The store currently buys its weed on the wholesale market, but a house grow is planned in coming months. Prices are expected to be average for the recreational market — for reference, Maggie's charges $100 per quarter-ounce for some strains — with a cash-only policy in the early going.
The Colorado Springs Business Journal recently reported that Maggie's generates around $100,000 per month in city sales-tax revenue. Maggie's owner Bill Conkling responded to a request for comment on the business' success by saying, "We strive everyday to contribute to the Manitou Springs community, which has been a positive part of my life since I was a young boy."
As for Manitou Springs itself: "I think most [residents] have accepted it," Mayor Marc Snyder told the CSBJ on March 23, "... and respect the fact that business has been done responsibly."