The first time Gina D’Amore Bauerle was approached by people from the cannabis industry, she thought it must be some type of joke.
“They came into my showroom one day, and I honestly thought they were being sarcastic at first when they said, ‘Hey, have you ever designed a dispensary before?’” Bauerle says.
One of those men was Colorado Harvest Company CEO Tim Cullen, who was looking to revamp his shop, Evergreen Apothecary, located just down the road from D’Amore Interiors’ 18,000-square-foot showroom.
At that time, in the early days of recreational cannabis sales in Colorado, dispensary design was essentially nonexistent. While some cannabis companies had made substantial investments in their retail spaces, most simply hung a green cross on the door, loaded several glass jars with marijuana and put pipes and accessories in generic glass display cases.
The nation’s first dispensaries opened at a time when cannabis businesses were, to put it bluntly, intentionally lacking in style. Either they were designed to blend in and not draw attention from law enforcement, or capital investments were avoided because of the business’ tenuous legal status. Others opened in a hurry to cash in on the early rush.
But the booming business of legal cannabis, particularly in competitive areas like South Broadway in Denver — now known as The Green Mile — forced business owners to put more energy into the aesthetics of their shops.
Form Follows Dysfunction
Redesigning Evergreen Apothecary, which has since been rebranded as Colorado Harvest Company, was unlike anything Bauerle had done before.
“But I’m the type of designer who loves a challenge and I love doing something new,” she says.
Bauerle’s forte is residential design, but she’s worked on a wide variety of commercial, retail and specialty projects.
“Design has been in my blood since birth,” Baurele says. “My parents have a home furnishing showroom that they built from the ground up in 1980.”
To understand where Colorado Harvest Company ended up, it’s important to paint a picture of how it started. The space originally had more of an “old liquor store” motif, according to Bauerle. Mismatched display cases looked like they were bought off Craigslist, including one that had no shelves, “just a tall, awkward space with a bunch of merchandise sitting on the bottom,” she says. A variety of safes, also mismatched, contributed to the mess of furniture, fixtures and merchandise. Lines often snaked out the front door, due to the relatively small floorplan.
“They got so busy so fast; they didn’t have enough square footage,” Bauerle says.
Colorado Harvest Company doubled its functional space by taking over the unit next door, which previously housed an insurance company. Bauerle went to work creating a modern, cohesive, mainstream retail space capable of changing people’s conceptions about cannabis.
“In terms of design, it was kind of funny, because there are two business partners I was working with, and they both had different opinions about what they wanted,” she says. “One wanted a clean, medical feel. The other one wanted an edgy, steampunk design.”
The Stunning Results
While steampunk and clean/medical might sound like two completely different themes, Bauerle says the biggest challenge was actually doing the remodel without closing the store.
“We completely set up the new half first, then we cut the hole in the wall,” Bauerle explains. “Overnight, they moved everything from one half to the other, then demoed and redesigned the old side, then eventually opened them up to each other.”
The entire process took about a year — far longer than if the company had closed temporarily — but it allowed Colorado Harvest Company to keep bringing in revenue during the renovation.
And the end result, everyone agrees, was worth the effort.
“Gina was able to take a vision we had and really make it tangible,” Cullen says. “She did a really great job of making it a nice retail environment for everyone. My grandma could shop in that store and she would feel comfortable, and we get a segment from the University of Denver that shops in there and is also comfortable.”
Most of the walls were kept white, with one accent wall covered in green wallpaper. Neat, organized bakery cases and fridges were incorporated to house edibles and beverages. Bauerle designed display cases and shelves out of steel, copper pipes and beetle-kill pine, which, in combination with the polished concrete floors and stylish Edison lights hanging from the ceiling, create an identity that is unique to Colorado Harvest Company.
The company doubled the number of registers, while providing more room for people to walk around the shop. The new space incorporated a VIP entrance, a functional waiting area so people didn’t have to stand outside and a separate room for medical patients. Overall, it has a more spacious, educational feel.
“Our fear was that we were two middle-aged white dudes, and there’s a good chance everything would have ended up beige,” Cullen jokes. “Gina was able to rescue us from ourselves and add a nice design touch to it that was well beyond what my business partner and I would have been able to come up with on our own.”
For the exterior, Bauerle designed a custom awning that features a decorative medical cross made by an artist she found on Etsy.
“It sets the tone for what to expect once you step inside,” she says. “It’s distinctive and it looks really cool.”
The Green Milestone
Colorado Harvest Company has gone on to open two more stores in addition to its Green Mile flagship. Each new location has followed the theme Bauerle started creating in 2014.
“I think you can find a cannabis company that fits every personality under the sun,” Cullen says. “If you’re into shopping at a place that looks like your college dorm room, that is absolutely available. If you want to shop in a place that looks like a high-end jewelry store, you can find that also. We were really looking for a look and feel that was really comfortable to adults when they walk in there.”
Looking back on her first project in the cannabis space, Bauerle realizes that it helped break down the stigmas she held about cannabis.
“I think this industry has single-handedly boosted our economy,” she says. “There’s a reason Denver was one of the first cities to rebound after the recession. At some point, this is just going to be legal everywhere, and everyone’s going to look back on it and wonder why we made such a big fuss about it.”
The Greater Good
Some people don’t consider design to be a necessity. Bauerle strongly disagrees.
“It’s important to have a professional with you who can see the bigger picture, especially for business owners,” she says. “A lot of the time, they’re so passionate about their company and what they’re trying to accomplish that sometimes they’re a little too close to it. They’re not able to make rational decisions for the greater good. It’s important to convey the feel and what the brand represents and the functional space needed, and then trust (the designer) to take those things and turn it into a tangible design.”
And, she says, having a well-designed store is even more critical for a business in an oversaturated area like the Green Mile in Denver, where consumers can choose from dozens of cannabis retailers.
“You have to do something that sets your brand apart from the all other dispensaries that are literally half a block away,” she says.
“At the end of the day, people are people, so whether it’s your house or your place of business, people want to feel comfortable in their environment.”