Birch Bay Budz aims to promote local cannabis producers

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A new retail cannabis store, Birch Bay Budz, plans to set itself apart by promoting products sourced from local farmers and growers in Whatcom County.

Birch Bay Budz, which opened on March 1 in Birch Bay Square near Woods Coffee, was started by co-owners Josh Sammeli and Eric Chan. The store sells a wide range of joints, flower, topicals, cartridges, concentrates, drinks and CBD products. Many of the store’s offerings originate in Whatcom County. “We’re really embracing the local farmers,” said Chan. “A lot of Whatcom growers aren’t selling in Whatcom County, and we want to change that.”

To help promote local growers, Birch Bay Budz offers a 15 percent discount on products from Whatcom County growers on Wednesdays.

Sammeli and Chan started Birch Bay Budz after selling a pest control business in Spokane. The pest control business began as a three-man operation, but quickly grew into a sizeable company with 13 employees servicing 3,000 homes per year. “We turned it into an absolute monster,” said Sammeli. “Every year we would buy another truck and add a guy.”

One of the clients of the pest control business was the founder of one of the state’s top-grossing cannabis companies. Inspired by their client’s success, Sammeli and Chan started researching the cannabis industry. They first found a state license for sale on the “grow side” of the market, but discovered that many growers had shut down in recent years due to market saturation.

Around the same time they sold the pest control business, Sammeli and Chan found a state license for the retail side of the market. It was for sale online on Craigslist, and they snapped it up. “We wanted to get into the industry,” said Chan. “This is a passion for us.”

The license was restricted to Whatcom County, so they moved here from Spokane and started looking for a location. It was a struggle to find the right spot, due to zoning requirements and rules requiring cannabis stores to be some distance away from schools, public parks, arcades, daycares and other places where children gather.

A lot of landlords also turned away their business due to its very nature. Cannabis is illegal at one level of government but legal at another. “Nobody would lease to us,” Chan said. “I basically got told ‘no’ for a year straight. An automatic ‘no.’ I ate my humble pie that year.”

After eventually finding a suitable location in Birch Bay Square in November, the next step was for them to fill the store with products. “I emailed almost everyone this side of the state,” said Chan. “I sent out about 900 emails.” But some producers were “full and done” and could not supply products to the new store. Others didn’t get back to Chan at all – “a bunch of stoners,” Chan joked.

The duo eventually put together an assortment of high-quality products from companies like Fleek Leaf, Cannabis King Gardens and Canndo. They also installed TV screens, shelves, glass cases and an ATM machine. Chan’s wife, Julie, designed the store’s logo, artwork and promotional materials. Four employees were hired, and Sammeli even got a new French bulldog, Bud, to keep everyone company in the store.

Since opening on March 1, business has been steady and about half of the store’s clients have already come back for return visits. The store soon plans to add a selection of glassware, as well as edible products like THC-infused Ramen noodle packets.

“We’re a little late to the game, but we’re really early in the grand scheme of things,” Sammeli said. “After being demonized for so long, this industry has exploded,” Chan added. “It’s a very fast-moving industry and I’m excited to see how it turns out for the country.”

Birch Bay Budz is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. in Birch Bay Square just off I-5. The hours may expand further this summer. For more information, visit birchbaybud.com.

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