As two cannabis industry professionals, my colleague Angela and I are curious to explore and review any new cannabis retail store that we can. We determined that our first field trip would be to Tokyo Smoke, located in the heart of Toronto at Yonge and Dundas
We negotiated the afternoon crowds thronging the downtown core, excited because of the Raptors’ participation in the NBA finals and the long-awaited appearance of spring. Add to that the fact that we were doing a professional field trip to legal cannabis retail stores in downtown Toronto meant that my only overriding emotion for the day was “I love Toronto”! “I love Canada!!”
As we approached the store – all windows obscured so that passersby cannot see inside – we were surprised to see that there was no lineup, despite the fact that it was a Thursday afternoon in what is arguably one of Toronto’s busiest areas. The location is the old HMV flagship store, just north of Dundas Square, on Yonge Street. The store seems to be fully accessible, with no stairs at the entrance, and the store on one level. The old HMV store occupied 3 floors over 4,000 square feet, so it will be interesting to see what Tokyo Smoke does with the rest of the space.
The store currently occupies the ground floor of the space, so it seems quite small from a square foot perspective and at times did feel overcrowded, especially around the higher-thc Indica strains area. Educational elements are usefully peppered around the store to help the novice consumers. Communication about the effect of the different products is quite clever, employing words with associated colour coding such as Calm, Create, Balance and Relax. I was impressed with their display targeted to women, with women-friendly products.
Also helpful were the cute little pods that contain bud that enable a sensory aspect to the product selection. By lifitng the little stopper, would-be consumers can smell the flower and look at the various aspects of it before ordering. Unfortunately, the olfactory pod is not available for all flower on sale.
The staff was welcoming, friendly and knowledeable. Angela was on the hunt for a balanced product that was low in THC whereas I was looking for my standard Netflix and Chill for 10 minutes before I fall asleep kind of product. Our budtender was accessible to us throughout our stay in the store, and provided great guidance about the various strains and accessories they sell.
The product selection on the shelves is further divided between flower, oils and sprays/capsules. The best selection was in the Relax area, although they had very few 1gram options in stock. It was tricky at times to see the various products on offer and to understand which flower was available in which gram format due to the way the shelves are set. I had to crane my neck quite a bit to see the products, and goodness knows, discerning which brand was on offer is quite tricky.
Canada’s restrictive packaging regulations mean that it’s hard for the consumer to even see which company made which product on the packaging, much less attribute brand meaning. I ended up selecting an Indica called Subway Scientist by Riff, which suited my insomniac needs quite well.
I was pleased that it came in a pouch and not in the obscenely ugly and unsustainable plastic jar packaging that seems to be ubiquitous in the Canadian cannabis landscape. My 1 gram purchase cost under $9 and I managed to get 3 joints out of the gram, which was pretty much the cheapest option on the shelves in the one gram packaging. Not cheap.
Overall, the experience was better than I expected. The actual shopping process – viewing from a range of products displayed on shelves, communicating product selection to a sales associate who places your order, which is then available at checkout seems needlesslly laborious. But the truth is, it all flowed. For a recreational cannabis shopping experience, not bad for the first foray out.
It’s unfortunate however that online ordering from this retailer, or any other cannabis retailer in Ontario, is not available other than through the ocs.ca. Loyal and repeat shoppers might appreciate being able to order from their favourite retailer just as they can with most other products they purchase. Baby steps I suppose, but online commerce is one of the pieces of the retail puzzle that is definitly missing in this exciting landscape to make this new industry truly thrive, in my opinion.