Is marijuana revitalizing Eagle-Vail?

Rocky Road is the latest marijuana dispensary to arrive in Eagle-Vail along a stretch of Highway 6 that is being dubbed by some as the "Green Mile." Most business owners along this commercial corridor welcome the pot shops as they hope it will eventually lead to a boost in their business.
Anthony Thornton | |

The big differences

There are several differences between medical and recreational marijuana businesses. Here are a couple of the major ones:

• Medical marijuana is available only by prescription, to people 18 and older. Native Roots, a combination recreational/medical operation, is open only to those 21 and older.

• Recreational marijuana is available to those 21 and older, and is subject to a 25 percent state tax. Other jurisdictions can add to that taxable total. The town of Eagle has a per-transaction fee instead of a sales tax.

EAGLE-VAIL — Can marijuana revitalize Eagle-Vail’s commercial district? Whatever the answer ultimately is, the marijuana business is growing — and bringing more people to — a stretch of U.S. Highway 6 some are already calling the “Green Mile.”

By Nov. 8, there will be three medical and three recreational marijuana businesses in the mile or so east of the stoplight at U.S. Highway 6 and Eagle Road. Two of the medical businesses have been in the valley since about 2009. The recreational businesses have all opened just this year.

Native Roots, in the back of the former Route 6 Cafe building, was the first to open. There, general manager Grant Troeger said business has been anywhere from good to crazy. After the store opened in early August, as many as 500 people per day would come in.

Four people came in during a 10-minute visit to the store on a recent early evening.

“Every single company here has come in to tell us, ‘People know where we are now.’”
Grant Troeger
General manager at Native Roots

Just to the west, a new store, Rocky Road, is set to open Nov. 8. Both Native Roots and Rocky Road are parts of larger companies — the third shop, Roots Rx, is locally owned. But Native Roots and Rocky Road seem to reflect two approaches to the business.

Native Roots is in a more bare-bones space. The employees are friendly and the shelves are well-stocked, but the decor is simple.

Rocky Road seems aimed at destination guests, with plenty of wood and stone on the walls and floors. About half the store can also be shut off from the other half. The idea is if a well-heeled guests calls ahead and asks to stay out of sight of other clients, he or she can be ushered in through the back door for a discrete visit.

More to come?

The three current recreational businesses in Eagle-Vail could be joined soon by another two. In all, Eagle County will make eight recreational licenses available — five in Eagle-Vail, one in Edwards and another two in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Is that too much?

Putnam Pierman, of Rocky Road, doesn’t think so.

“There’s actually very little competition when you think of all the bars and liquor stores around,” Pierman said.

While Rocky Road has taken an upscale approach, Pierman said that business intends to rely on local customers. Those are the people who will recommend the business to concierges and visitors. Troeger added that local residents will keep businesses running between tourist seasons.

Greg Honan has operated the Herbal Elements medical marijuana dispensary since 2009. Herbal Elements’ recreational license is still in the lengthy, expensive approval process, but Honan said that’s a part of the business his shop needs to get into soon.

Asked about the growth of the business in Eagle-Vail, Honan said there are both opportunities and challenges for his business.

The opportunities include being able to work with, and share ideas with, other operators. For Honan, opportunity also exists in his growing business, which is based in Eagle-Vail, and is able to expand as state regulations evolve.

Honan noted there are several advantages to keeping a medical license, as well as a permit to buy medical marijuana.

Medical customers can be as young as 18, while recreational marijuana is limited to those 21 and older. Medical marijuana purchasers also are exempt from the 25 percent state tax on recreational products.

Honan said state and local officials at some point will have to re-evaluate the level of taxation on recreational marijuana. Taxes, and the difficulty and expense of applying for permits and licenses have kept many black-market growers and sellers from going into the legal-marijuana business, he said.

Some of those requirements include plenty of education. Troeger and Rocky Road manager Suzannah Tarpey both said educating customers is a crucial part of their jobs, especially when it comes to visitors.

That education includes a lot of talking to people about the need to take it easy with edible products — which can take an hour or more to take effect.

Tarpey, a longtime veteran of the Vail restaurant and bar business, said she’s seen people on the floor after eating too much.

Good neighbors?

Longtime Eagle-Vail business Thurston Kitchen and Bath is two doors down from Rocky Road. There, designer Ken Jones said the new neighbors have created a clean, efficient space.

“They’re handling it well,” Jones said. “And anything that puts more people on our sidewalk is good.”

At the Route 6 Cafe, owner Ollie Holdstock said he’s been happy with what he’s seen so far.

Holdstock said marijuana has been a part of life in the Vail Valley in the 30-plus years he’s lived here. The sales taxes — the state’s portion of which are dedicated to school construction — are also nice to have, he said.

Holdstock said his business is up in the last six months, although whether that has anything to do with the marijuana business isn’t clear.

“But Eagle-Vail was a dying entity before they came,” Holdstock said. “Businesses are moving in again.”

And, he said, people who come to buy marijuana products might just stop in for a burger and a beer while they’re in the neighborhood.

At Native Roots, the old business area seems to be going through a burst of activity. In addition to the deli and gas station out front, a brewery is being established right next door, and a Crossfit studio has opened up across the parking lot.

“Every single company here has come in to tell us, ‘People know where we are now,’” Troeger said.