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Fresno Marijuana Retailers Race to Open Doors. Which Will Be First?



The Artist Tree, with its marijuana plants on display, is hoping to become the first cannabis retailer to open in Fresno. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)
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Two Fresno marijuana retailers are competing to become the first legal purveyor of pot in the city. Both The Artist Tree in northwest Fresno and Embarc in the central area are putting the final touches on their stores.

As of Wednesday afternoon, The Artist Tree is ready to go. All the interior work at its location at 7835 N. Palm Avenue is finished. The artwork is up. The legal paperwork is complete. The staff is being trained.

The Artist Tree plans to open Monday.

Meanwhile, Embarc is almost done at its location at 4592 N. Blackstone Avenue. Preparations are not quite as far along as The Artist Tree, but the store plans to open next Wednesday.

“We’re in kind of the final countdown with the city on a handful of outstanding items. But I’m really excited. You know, we’ve hired staff. We have placed orders for some of the greatest brands in the state of California. And we are really, really excited to be opening,” Embarc CEO Lauren Carpenter said.

The Artist Tree in northwest Fresno, and Embarc in central Fresno, say they will open next week. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

The Artist Tree Features Cannabis and Art

“We are an art gallery that also happens to sell cannabis.”co-owner Courtney Caron

Courtney Caron, co-owner of The Artist Tree, says the retailer lives up to its name.

“We are an art gallery that also happens to sell cannabis. So we consider ourselves a real community benefit organization, meaning that the entire premise of our organization is to help advance the arts in the cities where we operate,” Caron said.

Local artists will rotate their works on display throughout the year.

Customers enter through a lobby, and into the art gallery/marijuana display area. In the middle of the shopping floor is a grow cube, a live demonstration of marijuana plants.

The Artist Tree hired a staff of 25 and plans to offer 800 different products.

“All of it … comes from a sativa or an indica strain or a hybrid strain of that. So there’s gummies, there’s flowers, there’s topicals, there’s the cartridges, there’s wax. I mean, pretty much any type of product that you’re looking to consume you can find here,” Caron said.

An eighth of an ounce will generally cost buyers $20-$70. The Artist Tree plans to offer daily specials and discounts.

Caron says experience — the company runs several stores in Southern California — helped The Artist Tree become the first scheduled to open in Fresno. Local developer Cliff Tutelian is also part of the ownership group.

“We hit the ground running,” Caron said. “I really don’t believe there is very many other retailers who have had this much experience being first to market.”

Some of the local art on display at The Artist Tree on Palm Ave. in northwest Fresno. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

Embarc Opening in Central Fresno

“We expect a lot of people to come in and it (will) be their very first time, their very first experience in cannabis. So we’re going to have a kind approach … And then on the contrary to that, you know, there’s a bunch of weed nerds here in the Valley.”Embarc general manager Mela Bennett

At Embarc, staff are working on finishing touches — cleaning glass, preparing displays. The store occupies a space that formerly housed a T-Mobile outlet.

“We expect a lot of people to come in and it (will) be their very first time, their very first experience in cannabis. So we’re going to have a kind approach. We want to make sure that we’re educating our customer and making them feel welcome no matter what their experience level is. And then on the contrary to that, you know, there’s a bunch of weed nerds here in the Valley. So we want to make sure that we’re able to cater to them as well,” general manager Mela Bennett said.

The store features unique glass boxes that will display individual cannabis flowers. Customers can look through a magnifying glass, and even push a button to smell the flower.

“That’s something that we’ve heard a lot of feedback on, is that people want to be able to smell the flowers. So these are a really cool tool,” Bennett said.

These display boxes allow Embarc customers to see and smell a marijuana flower. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

Buying from a legal marijuana retailer comes with a hefty sales tax. State and local taxes can add around 30% to the price.

Bennett says paying the tax is worth it rather than buying on the street.

“On the street, you really don’t know what you’re getting. You could purchase an indica thinking it’s sativa. Or you might have products that have mold,” Bennett said.

Carpenter, the CEO, is happy that they could be opening at the same time as The Artist Tree. The two stores have “a wonderfully collaborative relationship” that includes sharing information.

“Both of us are putting our money where our mouth is in terms of the promise we made to the city to get these open and operating, I think as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Carpenter said.

Other Locations Waiting, Frustrated

Fresno awarded 20 cannabis business licenses since last year. Only three have obtained a conditional use permit, a requirement for opening. In addition to The Artist Tree and Embarc, Infinity Assets (618 East Shaw Avenue) has also received a CUP.

Infinity Assets says they are months away from moving in to their location, currently a Valley First Credit Union. Representatives say they could open their store in November at the earliest.

For the remaining applicants, they have until July 21 to complete their CUP applications. A CUP is a set of operating conditions the city sets on some types of businesses, including cannabis retailers.

Most told GV Wire they have already filed for their CUP, but are not close to opening.

Ace Castillo, majority owner of Banyan Tree — a social equity applicant — says he unhappy about the time it is taking the city’s planning department to approve his CUP.

“It is very frustrating,” he said through several sighs. “This process is taking longer and longer.”

Castillo says he is paying $5,000 in rent while waiting for his CUP to go through. He is thankful, however, for city assistance with zero interest loans, fee waivers, and grants.

Kacey Auston, a co-owner of two stores — Dr. Greenthumb in the Tower District and Cookies in central Fresno — says she is at least 120 days away.

Several others say they are waiting for action from the city on their submitted CUP applications.

A building permit is among the requirements. The city cannot issue that until the CUP is approved.

Caron, with The Artist Tree, says it is a lengthy process to get to a store opening, but believes competition is a good thing.

“Is it profitable with more stores like that in Fresno? Yes, there’s a good population. So I believe as long as you have one store for 10- to 20,000 people, then probably you’ll be able to do all right,” Caron said.

There is one remaining retail permit to be issued.

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email