When Ian Eisenberg was a teenager, he used to buy weed at the corner of 23rd and Union in the heart of Seattle’s Central District. Now he’s all grown up and selling weed from the same corner.
Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop has been one of the top-selling stores in the state since opening its doors. It has averaged well over a million dollars a month in sales for the past year.
Eisenberg says he bought the run-down lot where his marijuana retail store is now located out of frustration, mostly.
“I used to drive by and complain to my wife that somebody needed to fix up this intersection, and I think she got tired of hearing me complain about it,” Eisenberg says.
For years, Eisenberg struggled to find tenants, until he finally decided to open Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop in 2014.
“I figured I might as well be my own tenant,” the entrepreneur says.
Eisenberg’s retail store was the second recreational marijuana shop to open in Seattle. The early days weren’t without challenges. When Uncle Ike’s first opened, the neighboring Mount Calvary Christian Center organized daily protests outside the retail location. Next came a lawsuit alleging the neighborhood hadn’t been given a chance to weigh in before Uncle Ike’s opened.
Eisenberg stayed the course and the community has become increasingly welcoming as it has witnessed the rejuvenation happening around Capitol Hill.
The corner is having something of a renaissance moment these days as urban decay has been replaced by sleek, modern buildings and Uncle Ike’s glowing lights. The shop is also spurring other development in the neighborhood, Eisenberg says.
“As a result of the pot shop we have $100 million worth of real estate going up across the street,” he says. “Developers love us because we’ve made the corner safe and brought people here and helped change the perception, which is really a neat byproduct of I-502 (Washington’s initiative that legalized recreational marijuana).”
Uncle Ike’s isn’t alone. The dark predictions that led some cities to enact moratoriums to keep out recreational marijuana businesses haven’t come to pass. Rather than lead to an increase in crime, the legal cannabis industry has created money and jobs that have helped revitalize entire neighborhoods and smaller towns.
“We wanted to activate the corner,” Eisenberg says. “We wanted people walking around, spending more time here, eating. We redid the glass shop, so at night you can see in and it doesn’t look all dull and dreary.”
Eisenberg invited a rotating cast of food trucks to vend on the corner and added an outdoor seating area. Vintage movie posters from the 1920s and ‘30s decorate the walls in both the cannabis and glass shops, and the whole operation has a sleek, retro-cool vibe.
Uncle Ike’s isn’t the first entrepreneurial endeavor for Eisenberg, who majored in business at nearby Seattle University. Before doubling down on the cannabis industry, he sold his majority stake in the all-natural, stevia-sweetened diet soft drink company, Zevia. In Zevia’s early days, stevia had yet to be granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status by the Food and Drug Administration. Eisenberg’s experience navigating that regulatory jungle prepped him for adapting to Washington’s recreational marijuana regulations as they have evolved.
But being a marijuana entrepreneur wasn’t necessarily a straight-forward decision. Eisenberg and his wife Linda have three sons ages 10, 12 and 14.
“At first I thought it might be weird for the kids at school, but the first week I saw pretty much all their friends’ parents, their teachers, their principals in the store,” Eisenberg says.
Moving forward, Eisenberg suspects competition will become a larger issue. There are 19 recreational marijuana shops open in Seattle now, including one that recently opened about a block away from Uncle Ike’s. He expects the number of shops will double in years to come.
“It’ll probably be somewhat of a race to the bottom in terms of pricing,” he says.
Between the location and efficiency of the store, it’s easy to see how Uncle Ike’s has rung up $10.8 million in marijuana sales between September 2014 and September 2015. During that time Eisenberg has forked over $3.7 million in excise taxes, making Uncle Ike’s the top taxpayer in King County among cannabis-related businesses.
The shop has grown more dramatically and at a quicker pace than its Seattle peers largely due to savvy branding, a killer location and the notoriety gained by being one of the first recreational retailers to open in Seattle.
Eisenberg plans to continue introducing new products and services to keep a competitive edge. One idea includes a fleet of classic cars that will pick up tourists at the airport and bring them to Uncle Ike’s.
The whole operation employs 50 people, most of them budtenders. The crew has to stay on their toes: Eisenberg adds new products to the menu every week. Offerings range from upscale cookies manufactured by the Goodship Company to basic $5 joints and daily specials that are scrawled on a board above the checkout counter. Eisenberg is always excited about some new product, he says. One product that comes to mind is the CannaSol Farms line of sustainable, sun-grown cannabis, which Eisenberg expects to be a big hit in eco-conscious Seattle.
Eisenberg is currently in the process of adding on to the back of the shop to make more room for inventory. The shop also recently received a medical marijuana endorsement under the state’s new licensing laws, but Eisenberg isn’t sure whether he’ll use it when it becomes an option in 2016.
“When we find out what it’s really going to look like we’ll make the decision at that point,” he says.
He does know he’d like to open more stores.
“I think the state will have to take the taxes down, especially with Oregon opening up with a 20% tax,” he says. “That’s less than half of ours.”
All in all, the ride has been fun, though less crazy than he expected going into it.
“I thought it’d be the exciting, glamorous world of drug dealing, but it’s more like running a 7-Eleven,” Eisenberg says.