AURORA — The place was a grease pit. Now look at it: Wall panels made of reclaimed pine beetle-kill wood. Empty glass cases ready to be filled. An ATM just delivered. And $100,000 worth of bulletproof windows, frosted to shield prying eyes from the product.
On the late November day before the opening of Medicine Man’s second recreational marijuana store, Andy Williams is on the phone with a guy trying to sell him a sound system. Someone is always trying to sell him something.
He puts down the phone to welcome a would-be customer, the third to stop by in the last 15 minutes wanting to make a purchase.
The man is uninterested in the cut-rate deals available at the flagship store, in Denver, or waiting a day for the Aurora grand opening.
“It’s a today thing,” the guy says, shuffling out.
This is full circle, in a way, for the family behind a company that wants to be the Costco of weed, delivering high quality at low prices.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in an occasional series of articles on Year One of recreational pot sales in Colorado told through the lens of one business, Medicine Man in northeast Denver.
A year earlier, co-owners and brothers Andy and Pete Williams were rushing to convert their Denver medical marijuana operation into one that also sold recreational marijuana — essentially the same product at higher prices and taxes to a large number of out-of-state tourists.
That gambit succeeded beyond expectations. The Williams family’s bet on their business plan, tolerance for risk and willingness to be open about their financial books and personal lives have paid off.
Nearly a year into the first legal recreational marijuana retail sales on the planet, Medicine Man is one of the names that is talked about when people talk about Colorado’s grand experiment in legalization.
There have been ups and downs: For every five minutes of fame on national TV, an employee’s bank account closed without explanation. For every new consulting gig, another stress-induced fainting spell.
Some dreams fast-tracked, others delayed.
Even as Andy prepared to open his new recreational store in a building that used to house a fast-food joint at a prime Aurora intersection, bigger things weighed on his mind.
He and his relatives are deep in negotiations to give up a majority stake in the company.
One of the pioneering families of Colorado pot is ready to sell out.
Unused for years
The abandoned truck stop north of Pueblo has a whiff of decay. On a mid-May morning, Andy Williams tours a broken-down building that has sat unused for years off Interstate 25.
He walks past the remains of a pie rack, a tipped-over miniature Christmas tree and a Gideon Bible open on a table.
The ceiling tiles are yellow and water-damaged. Up a staircase are 24 motel rooms and two suites, if bigger motel rooms can be called that.
“You can’t see how it is,” Andy says. “You have to see it for what it’s going to be.”
What Andy Williams sees is the Medicine Man Truck Stop, a bustling center of marijuana commerce with a recreational store, a motel crash pad for truckers and pot tourists, and possibly a new edibles-manufacturing arm operating out of the industrial kitchen.
If all goes as planned, Pueblo County will become Medicine Man’s next flag in the ground in Colorado.
After opening Jan. 1 for recreational sales at its sole location in Denver, the Williams family is in the market for another.
It’s a 20-minute drive from the truck stop to a 5-acre parcel with views of the Sangre de Cristo range. The location is top secret.
Andy is traveling with a prospective business partner, Len Toews, who found the land. Toews developed an expertise in high-tech tomato farming in Vancouver, B.C., and now he plans to bring the same principles to Colorado’s new cash crop.
“I told them, ‘Guys, where do we grow lilies and roses and greenhouse tomatoes and peppers?’ ” says Toews, who lives on a Weld County farm. ” ‘Do we grow them in a greenhouse or a warehouse?’ We grow them in greenhouses, and there’s a reason for that.”
To Colorado pot entrepreneurs who have made a science out of growing indoors under lights, greenhouses are the future, a cheaper and greener vehicle for growing more and better marijuana plants.
With sunshine, cool nights and receptive politicians, Pueblo County is shaping up to be the marijuana belt of Colorado.
As of last month, an estimated 140,000 square feet had been dedicated to greenhouses, putting greenhouse cultivations on the cusp of overtaking warehouse grows there, county records show.
This site — empty but for scrub oak, yucca and grasshoppers — has it all, Toews explains: flat land and access to water and natural gas.
“I’m almost jumping-out-of-my-skin excited,” he tells Andy.