Washington state was not only one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, but it also features a regulatory scheme that makes it unlike any other legal cannabis market in the United States. Because vertical integration is prohibited, cannabis brands have proliferated in a way that gives consumers the ability to choose from a wide selection of products and manufacturers, completely independent of the retail store in which they’re shopping. And the state’s limitation of five retail licenses per person has kept intact some of the cottage industry that is quickly disappearing in markets throughout the country.
This month, Marijuana Venture continues its series on cannabis retailers around Washington state with a look at Island Herb, a cannabis store located on Whidbey Island that takes a medical approach to cannabis, and Buddy’s, a shop in the Seattle suburbs that leans on its musical roots.
With so many cannabis shops of choose from in the Seattle area, Myles Harlow Kahn, owner of Buddy’s Cannabis, knew what was going to set his store apart from the pack.
“The vibe is the most important thing,” he says.
Kahn says he wanted a store that people could feel comfortable in, one where the experience itself would be more enjoyable than a standard, sterile shopping experience.
That’s why he opted for a musical theme and named his Renton store after his paternal grandfather, Buddy Harlowe, a famed bandleader at New York City’s Tavern on the Green and Latin Quarter through the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. From the mural outside featuring a “Mount Rushmore” of cannabis-friendly musicians (Willie Nelson, Bob Marley, Jerry Garcia and Louis Armstrong) to the shiny, NYC-influenced and art deco-styled ceiling to the instruments and album covers throughout the store, the vibe at Buddy’s is cool.
“We’re celebrating the nexus between the music and the cannabis cultures,” he says.
Nowhere is that more obvious than the storefront, with the image of Kahn’s grandfather and the mural hanging under the store’s proudly visible address: 420 Sunset Blvd.
Inside, Kahn says the goal is to put customer service first with budtenders trained understand exactly what the customer is looking for and where they are coming from — be it recreational or therapeutic, a newbie or a longtime consumer. Even the budtenders themselves are an intentionally diverse group, from age to gender to race to background — all to complement the comfortable shopping environment.
Kahn is also the store’s buyer and prides himself on carrying a large selection of products, usually between 4,500 and 5,000 unique SKUs. From an operational perspective, it’s a bit of a challenge, but the vast array of products helps ensure that anyone who comes in can find what they are looking for.
A lawyer by trade and a serial entrepreneur, Kahn says he is always looking for the next opportunity, though he’s not sure Washington or Oregon is right for expansion. However, the “native New Yorker through and through” is keeping an eye on the East Coast as a potential next home for the brand.
“I’m definitely monitoring New York,” he says. “I don’t need to take over the world, but I think there’s room for expansion of the Buddy’s label.”
And would his grandfather approve of his name being used on a cannabis store? Kahn laughs.
“Let’s just say Buddy liked to enjoy life,” he says.
Buddy’s is named after owner Myles Kahn’s grandfather, Buddy Harlowe, who was the leader of the house band at the Latin Quarter and backed up some of the biggest touring musicians of the time. But Kahn’s father, Larry Harlow, might be even more accomplished. Known for his fusion of Afro-Cuban and jazz styles of piano playing, Harlow released 33 albums and was presented in 2008 with a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kahn, a bass player like his grandfather, says he was the “black sheep” of his family and went to law school instead of into music. However, with instruments all over the store, he and his staff are known to jam from time to time with customers. The store also hosts weekly performances from musicians, though it dropped to a biweekly event during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Location, Location, Location
The store’s address, 420 Sunset Blvd. has become almost a second name for the shop, due to its prominent display on the front, which, as an address, also does not count toward signage regulations. The building’s original address was different, but the lot’s range was 410-430 Sunset. When Kahn bought it, he filed for the address change and was approved by the city.
As part of the shop’s commitment to community, Buddy’s has partnered with the nonprofit Invictus Foundation to assist veterans struggling with post-war illness. In 2020, Buddy’s raised more than $15,000 for the organization. The store also partners with other charities from time to time and hosts the local VFW most Saturdays, matching all donations raised.