High Country: High Q owner Renée Grossman reflects on making Snowmass Village history
The town’s first-ever dispensary celebrates its grand opening throughout the holiday week
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5 Village Square (next to Little Mammoth Steakhouse, across from Zane’s
Celebrate High Q's grand opening Dec. 27 to Jan. 2 with special discounts, product giveaways, vendor popups and more.
Despite Colorado legalizing marijuana for adult use, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, approximately only 30% of the state’s towns and cities currently allow cannabis sales. The Elk Mountains enclave of Snowmass Village was one such municipality hesitant to move on marijuana, swiftly adopting a moratorium on marijuana retail six years ago — even with its small population passing Amendment 64 with 72% of voters in 2012. But now, and just in time for the Christmas week rush of vacationers, the Town of Snowmass Village is officially open for cannabusiness.
High Q, locally owned by Renée Grossman, not only toasted to the opening of its third location on Dec. 14, but also celebrated the end of a yearslong undertaking. Two members of Snowmass Town Council (including Mayor Markey Butler) had contentiously opposed marijuana previously, citing fears ranging from tarnishing the resort’s family-friendly image to negatively impacting children.
Ultimately, after voting in favor of a moratorium extension three times since 2013, Town Council approved the zoning ordinance along with a set of carefully crafted regulations for marijuana dispensaries operating in the village in March. Six months later, Grossman presented a comprehensive business plan for High Q and was unanimously approved to operate the first-ever dispensary in Snowmass — one of 11 applicants the Romero Group vetted to lease its space on the second level of the Village Mall.
Grossman came to Colorado after two decades on Wall Street as an investment banker. She was commuting for nearly five years when the legal industry started to take shape and decided to embark on an encore career in cannabis. The Wharton MBA graduate started High Q in 2014 with her first store in Silt, later expanding to Carbondale in 2018.
Meanwhile in Aspen, marijuana was embraced from the beginning. The downtown core is known as having the state’s highest density of dispensaries per capita with eight stores (about one shop for every 900 full-time residents). Like Aspen, Snowmass did not institute a cap to the number of dispensaries it will allow. Grossman says she expects (and welcomes) at least two more stores in the next two years. Assistant Town Manager Travis Elliott said, “High Q has been a model business for the future from the town’s perspective.”
During a break on her already-busy second day in business, I sat down with Grossman in-store at High Q to get her reflections on making ski town history in Snowmass Village.
“This whole process has been long, but it’s been great because it was really about hard work, perseverance and dedication. Being selected was an amazing moment — and that it was because of merit as opposed to politics. The first time I saw the name on the door I thought, ‘This is real, this is actually happening.’ Snowmass was cautious and took their time and I’m proud that I’ve changed their perception into a positive one. The promise here is one that’s going enhance the community and be a resource for loyal locals as well as tourists that still might be new to cannabis. It’s been encouraging to see an outpouring of support so far.”
On High Q’s high quality:
“The flower that we sell is grown in a living soil using organic cultivation practices, which produces a better product. When plants are grown the way nature intended, they take their nutrients up from the micro-organisms directly, which means more cannabinoids and a higher terpene profile. The curing process is also important because like a fine wine, it enhances the smoking experience. We also only prepackage our flower about a day in advance at most. As other stores scale larger, it’s usually sitting in containers for weeks and it is sold dried out. And we carry the cleanest concentrates without any additives — no (legal) marijuana companies in Colorado are permitted to use what’s caused the recent health scare.”
On women in cannabusiness:
“I’d say the only business that’s more challenging for women than finance is energy (Grossman also has previous experience as a coal industry executive). When I saw marijuana being sold legally, I saw it as a huge consumer products opportunity. The first industry I covered in finance was retail, so I knew it was a lower cost way for me to get into the space. I attended an early Women Grow conference where I met so many great women running cannabis businesses — I was so excited because I had never seen such support for women before in any industry I had worked in. But there’s an evolution happening, where the maturation of this industry means more male executives coming into cannabis with a lot of capital. I never had a mentor, so I love meeting young women in cannabis who look at me and say, ‘Wow, you did it, so can I.’ I’m 52 years old and that is the most rewarding for me — it was so much harder for women before.”
On the corporatization of cannabis retail:
“There’s a lot of consolidation starting in the marketplace right now. This year, the state allowed public company ownership, so we’re seeing more money come into the state to buy up smaller stores and build larger chains. High Q has a successful retail model, but the changing dynamic in the industry is making it harder for smaller companies like us.. We believe in the ‘shop local’ mentality — you’re going to get a higher quality experience when you support your local businesses. I know all of my (29) employees — and probably too much about them — I never had children, so they’re like my kids. I don’t want to be a big chain. I am happy being a nice little regional player.”
On what’s next:
“I was very fortunate that I was able to open my first two stores on my own using some of my savings. Snowmass was a much bigger undertaking with extensive renovations, so I brought in two outside investors who’ve been incredibly supportive of the business. We are reinvesting together and raising capital now to build a local grow facility and solvent-less extract lab in the next year. This will predominantly supply my stores, but we will also be expanding to the wholesale market.”
On finding her forever home:
“I loved living in New York City when I was younger. We would vacation in Aspen — I was a typical yuppie. I thought, ‘Wow! The people who get to live here, look how lucky they are.’ I moved to Old Snowmass about three years ago and knew it was my forever home. It’s more rural, but you have the best of both worlds here — I have water buffalo roaming behind my house, but am close to Aspen with access to one of the best arts and culture scenes in the country. To me, (the Roaring Fork Valley) is the best place on Earth to live. And that I was able to open a High Q store in my backyard? I’m just so thrilled.”
“2023 predicted to be the Vintage of a Lifetime in Napa Valley,” proclaimed the headline this week in a press release sent out by the Napa Valley Vintners, the trade organization that represents the growers and producers in America’s most famed wine region. If there is anyone more optimistic than winemakers, it is the group that represents them.