Town gives a thumbs-up to proposed Snowmass Center marijuana retailer

The Snowmass Dispensary is one step closer to opening this winter

Andrew Wickes addresses the questions posed by Snowmass Town Council on his proposal for a new marijuana dispensary in the Snowmass Center on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Snowmass Sun)

Andrew Wickes has spent years waiting for the right time to open a recreational marijuana shop in the Snowmass Center.

It looks like he’ll get his chance this winter thanks to a unanimous thumbs up from Snowmass Village’s Local Marijuana Licensing Authority.

The authority, which is composed of the members of Town Council but is technically a separate governing body, approved with conditions Wickes’ application for a marijuana sales license for “The Snowmass Dispensary” at a Nov. 15 meeting.

Those conditions include the arrival of the state license (it’s been approved by the state but won’t be mailed until Nov. 22, according to Town Clerk Rhonda Coxon) and all the requisite building code approvals from local safety agencies.

If all goes according to plan, the Snowmass Dispensary will be primed to open on the second level of the Snowmass Center not too far into the ski season — good news to community members who have already shown enthusiasm for the venture.

“We probably received more positive comments about your application for this than we have for anything else,” Mayor Bill Madsen said at the meeting. The board received 13 emailed public comments prior to the hearing, all but two of them in support of the approval.

Checking all the boxes

The approval with conditions now — rather than a single final approval once those boxes are checked — helps accommodate a timeline that accounts for both municipal noticing requirements for public hearings and the applicant’s desire to take advantage of seasonal business in Snowmass Village, town attorney John Dresser said.

“The ski season is coming up and they want to give themselves every opportunity to have success and be open when all our friends, relatives and guests arrive in the village,” Dresser said.

Wickes has already heard positive feedback from customers at Sundance Liquor and Gifts, where he works as the operational manager at the Snowmass Center shop his parents, Barbara and Steve, founded in 1979.

“People take a lot of pride in Sundance and feel like it’s their store … and it’s just been really cool to see how people are excited about seeing that occur also upstairs,” Andrew Wickes said in an interview last week.

It’s a full-circle moment for Wickes, who was a vocal proponent of ending the town’s moratorium on marijuana sales a few years back. The moratorium was implemented in 2013 and extended three times after that as electeds and community members debated the role of pot shops in the family-oriented village.

Wickes entered the ring in 2017 and soon became a regular commenter at town discussions among a group of other stakeholders, indicating interest in opening a marijuana retail space during an interview with the Snowmass Sun back in 2018.

Council finally approved the ordinance allowing marijuana sales in the village in a divided 3-2 vote in March of 2019 after years of discussion and months going over regulations with a fine-tooth comb.

But it was ultimately High Q, a retailer now located on the second level of the Snowmass Mall, that landed the title of the village’s first and only pot shop.

High Q gets some friendly competition

High Q won’t be the only marijuana retailer in the village anymore, but owner Renée Grossman suggested it will be a friendly kind of competition between her shop and the Snowmass Dispensary while she chatted with the Wickes family at Town Hall on Monday night.

Grossman sent a congratulatory text to Wickes the night before after she saw the application met all of the requirements, she said.

It feels a little “scary” to have a competitor in the mix, but “I’m glad it went to local people and not one of the big chains,” Grossman said.

Wickes also noted that the different locations — High Q on the Snowmass Mall and The Snowmass Dispensary in the Snowmass Center — might reach different sectors of the cannabis-curious population.

Wickes’ vision for a retailer in the Snowmass Center would have to wait as building owner Eastwood Snowmass Investors focused on other plans for redevelopment of the town hub. Wickes joked in an interview that he was “definitely persistent, maybe to the point of being semi-annoying” to Eastwood Snowmass president Jordan Sarick in hopes of a green light to pursue a marijuana retail space in the center as it currently exists.

“I was a little bit jealous and anxious and ready to get going here,” he said. “But I understood that our landlords had some bigger fish to fry, so there were definitely a lot of different times when it was hurry up and wait — a few times where I thought we were maybe getting ready to prepare to open a store, but different things happen with development and so forth.”

The Snowmass Center will eventually get a complete overhaul that could impact the Snowmass Dispensary’s operations as developers prioritize keeping key facilities like the grocery store and the post office open; many tenants will likely experience some shuffling around.

But it’s unlikely that the project will break ground in the near future, since the timeline has been complicated by factors like project phasing, municipal approvals and supply chain challenges, Sarick told the Snowmass Sun last month.

“We understand that there’s inherent risk with the pending redevelopment. … We’re taking an optimistic approach at the time,” Wickes said at the Nov. 15 meeting.

With that optimism comes a lot of care and attention that Wickes and his general manager Cale Mitchell are putting into the space.

Wickes said in an interview he intends to create a “living-room atmosphere” and a comfortable, convivial space that can serve as a community hub, just as Sundance does downstairs and with the same “responsible mentality (and) conservative approach.”

The goal is to have a “well-trained, well-educated staff” who can provide expertise and a concierge-like service for newcomers as well as an “express” counter for those who know exactly what they want.

“I think it’ll just be a place where everyone can feel comfortable to shop, whether they are a 23-year-old liftie spending their first winter here, or maybe a 75-year-old who still really loves to ski as much as they can and just needs that extra relief on the joints or to help sleep,” Wickes said.