Story by Justin Allec, Photos by Adrian Lysenko
I wasn’t surprised that there was a bit of lineup outside of Tokyo Smoke’s doors. Despite it being a chilly Monday morning barely into March, this was an event: an actual cannabis store was set to open its doors in Thunder Bay. Having never entered a dispensary before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The store’s front gave no clues, as the windows were papered over, but the large man checking ID as we walked in certainly did. Beyond that admission through security, though, we found ourselves in a space with the familiar aesthetics of an Apple store: lots of open space contained by white surfaces and glass displays, brushed nickel shelving, a series of tasteful prints by Roy Thomas, and, on display, a wall of cannabis buds.
Tokyo Smoke has the chance to set the standard for cannabis stores in Thunder Bay, and they’re taking an education-based approach that attempts to provide a “shopping experience” and link cannabis use to lifestyle. I was a bit amused at how far Tokyo Smoke is taking their destigmatizing efforts. Not only does the space look nothing like a headshop, their salespeople are called “educators” and they’re supposed to provide a “personal shopping experience” in order to pair you with your ideal strain. Our educator explained how Tokyo Smoke had organized their strains—or varietals—into five ethereal categories. Each category gets its own display section complete with sample buds in little pods. These pods have a stopper you can pull out to smell the terpenes, so even if you can’t touch, it’s attractive and convincing. If you’ve only had limited experience with the “legacy market,” as our educator termed days pre-legalization, and you haven’t really explored the Ontario Cannabis Store site, you’re going to be slightly overwhelmed.
Along with the wall of smell pods, the store features a terpene bar and other smaller displays for edibles, oils, vapes, and paraphernalia. Aside from some Tokyo Smoke-specific paraphernalia, though, everything is the same as what’s available at the OCS, just more convenient—and with a price tag to match. That’s because Tokyo Smoke sources their products from the OCS for the same price that you pay. For example, Redecan’s Cold Creek Kush is $32.40 for 3.5 grams online with $5 for shipping, but retails for $36 at Tokyo Smoke plus HST.
Aside from cost, I’m wondering how long Tokyo Smoke will want to use their education-first approach as the public’s familiarity with cannabis increases, especially given the prospect of another two cannabis retailers opening soon. Regardless, Tokyo Smoke earns a lot of goodwill from me for being first and trying to make it as approachable as possible.