With so many dispensaries out there, how does any particular cannabis shop stand out and draw a loyal following? At River City Retail, located in the heart of Merlin, the winning formula is all about the people, says General Manager Victoria Romeo.
“We’re a super passionate team, and we offer premium products,” Romeo said. “Our bud tenders are professional and personable, and we’re deeply committed to the integrity of this industry. Collectively, we have a vast amount of knowledge that we love to share with our customers.”
Most of “the team” of nine people have been together for several years, which is “rare in this fast-growing nomadic industry. We all just found each other and stayed. We spend more time with each other than we do with our own families — so we take our relationships seriously.”
Located roughly nine miles north of Grants Pass, River City Retail caters to both medical and recreational users with an inventory of 75 cannabis strains and “the whole array” of cannabis-related products and paraphernalia. “Many of our customers pass a lot of other dispensaries to get to us, and that says something,” Romeo said.
COVID-19 has changed the game
Most dispensaries were designated “essential” businesses, like pharmacies and grocery stores, during the coronavirus shutdown.
“Business exploded,” Romeo said. “We stand up and serve people. We shoulder through it. It’s what we do.
“Quite legitimately, many medical users really stocked up,” she explained. “We initially saw some really giant purchases — we could barely keep up — though that’s slowed down. But also, there’s just really a lot of new consumers.
“With all the mass anxiety and people trapped in their houses with their families all the time, something needed it give — so a bit of cannabis seems to be what the doctor ordered to help keep the peace.”
Romeo added that many new customers are trying out different options, spiking sales for edibles, tinctures and oils.
“It’s been like 4/20 everyday,” she joked. A trifecta of situations aligned: COVID, stimulus checks and now summertime.”
These days Romeo hears more customers saying they’re nervous about leaving the area. “They’re coming in to buy their vacation supplies. And we live in paradise, so why leave?”
The team takes COVID seriously. “We’re all about precautions,” Romeo said. During the quarantine, the dispensary predominantly did curbside service, with the staff sporting gloves and masks. Now that the store is open again, customers easily practice social distancing as the building is large, light and airy.
Romeo said many customers miss being able to sniff the jars … but she said her budtenders are adept at describing the flavor, smell, terpene profiles and the overall character of the various cannabis strains.
Even though the COVID crisis has driven up demand, River City’s prices remain stable.
“It’s absolutely unprecedented, this level of business,” Romeo said, “but our growers are not gouging, and we’re not going to jack up our prices to capitalize on something really tragic that is happening either.”
“We always sell cannabis products from our local farms and processors — but to be fair, we try to rotate our relationships with vendors. So we’ve got huge variety, cause honestly,” Romeo quips, “nobody wants to eat the same cereal every day.”
The store sells cannabis flowers, pre-rolled joints, concentrates, extracts, edibles (from gummies to cake balls), tinctures, oils, topicals (including creams and oils), and all the latest in supplies and paraphernalia displayed at the store.
Plus there are daily specials, senior discounts on Sundays, and “every day we honor all first responders.” Emergency personal, firefighters and veterans always receive discounts.
Romeo said customers often ask about the differences between indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.
The team consensus is that growing indoors facilitates better control, so key growth elements like light and water can be fine-tuned, which can yield higher THC content; but with outdoor grows, “we believe you’ll get a really unique terpene profile. One of our suppliers, Alter Farms, is a great example for that,” Romeo said. “Their natural combination of sun, earth, air and water makes a really unique flower and terpene profile that can only come from the outdoors.
“We’re very passionate about staying current on both trade-craft and the evolving science,” she said. “Every day it seems like new cannabinoids and terpenes are being identified, and the impacts to health care can be groundbreaking.
“The whole games has changed. You can get products with or without THC, it’s not just about getting high,” she said. “There’s so much more to the medicinal aspects than what anybody had known previously. … Now we have products for every need and every budget.
“We see it all: from those in end-stage cancer to those who just beat cancer, with the help of RSO.” Rick Simpson Oil is a concentrated full-plant cannabis extract that produces a high-yield of terpenes and associated compounds and is formulated into oils, edibles or topicals.
Romeo notes how full-plant extractions exhibit stronger “entourage effects” than other flower extraction methods, which means more therapeutic compounds are present per gram.
As research identifies an ever-increasing profile of cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, more diverse and specialized products are evolving to feed a booming global market, and there’s no end in sight.
“The public is now broadly familiar with CBD (cannabidiol) extracts, tinctures and oils,” Romeo said. “So now we have CBG, or cannabigerol, which is just another of many cannabinoids that has a wide range of positive benefits for human health.”
Alter Farms produces CBG oil tinctures and isolate extracts, which are becoming more popular.
CBG is thought to have “really strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties,” but it doesn’t get one high in a psychoactive sense. But when paired with THC products, Romeo says a patient can create a customized medication that provides a full range of relief. Again, the entourage effect.
Fresh on Romeo’s mind is the recent death of Charlotte Figi, a 13-year-old from Colorado Springs who suffered from a rare form of epilepsy. When Figi first began taking CBD oil, her debilitating seizures were dramatically reduced and she was weaned off of anti-epileptic pharmaceutical drugs. She was soon able to walk, play and feed herself, and her story, featured in academic literature, sparked a movement that led to sweeping changes to cannabis laws around the world. A high-CBD marijuana strain and an entire CBD product line, Charlotte’s Web, was named for her. Sadly, she succumbed in April to what her family believes was COVID-19.
It’s personal for Romeo, as her own daughter was recently diagnosed with epilepsy. “Cannabis is a critical part of her medicine. Sometimes it can stop a seizure in its tracks, and it helps keep her dose of anti-seizure meds to a minimum.”
Many industry-watchers believe full legalization of cannabis nationwide is on the horizon. Romeo has reservations.
“I mean you want it, but … I’m pretty concerned about the ramifications.”
Romeo said she worries about agricultural conglomerates planting huge fields of cannabis. “Seeing how GMO corn crops are altered, we don’t want that to happen to our cannabis supplies.
“Plus, I love all our small farms,” she adds, “and if our farms lose their access to the market, that would kill local jobs and destroy some really beautiful medicine.”
River City Retail is open daily, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and until 7 p.m. Sundays. From I-5, take Exit 61 and head west 4 miles to Merlin. The address is 115 Galice Road, Suite A. Reach the team at 541-450-1585.
Reach Cave Junction freelance writer Annette McGee Rasch at email@example.com.