How painter Bob Ross, the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland inspired one of the funkiest cannabis shops in the Pacific Northwest
Hidden treasures are often discovered in the most unlikely places. Great meals can be enjoyed in small, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, fascinating objets d’art found in eclectic, little stores, and interesting pieces of nostalgia seen in small-town museums.
In other words, when traveling the country, it often pays dividends to stop and look at easy-to-miss locations that might not initially grab your attention — locations like Cle Elum, Washington, a small community in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains, 80 miles east of Seattle.
With a population of fewer than 2,000 people, Cle Elum is a former logging town that now serves as a tourist stop-over for people traveling the busy I-90 corridor to and from Seattle. Surrounded by high peaks and Ponderosa Pine forests, it’s a picturesque example of a rural, western town that has managed to nicely balance nostalgia and growth.
It’s also home to Happy Trees, a state-licensed cannabis retailer located near the center of town. From the outside, the store resembles a well-kept, craftsman-style house, circa 1930. Painted avocado green and trimmed in river rock and cedar, the neat exterior and clean yard suggest the structure could be one of the numerous quaint local stores selling antiques and regional gifts to visiting tourists.
But the inside is truly unique; owner Paul Brice describes it as “Bob Ross meets The Wizard of Oz meets Alice in Wonderland.”
The store’s entryway has been transformed into a shrine to Seattle’s much-loved Seahawks. In the same space, a whimsical wood carving and large “Thank you for pot smoking” sign greet customers. Inside the store, the decorations are an eclectic mix of funky stuff, ‘70s nostalgia and kitsch, with artsy lighting fixtures mixed in for good measure. The main shopping area is divided into several sections that feature display cases containing cannabis products selected by price point or theme. One case is filled with budget smoke, while others feature edibles and connoisseur buds.
Shopping at Happy Trees is an experience centered on discovery. Each case is stocked with interesting products that align with the store’s theme.
Store manager Kasia Birdsbill, originally a native of North Dakota, greets customers with a warm smile and a friendly hello. Her enthusiasm stems from prior experiences in her home state, which continues to discriminate against cannabis users of all types.
Because of this, Birdsbill, who had many personal experiences that proved to her the medical benefits of cannabis, decided to strike out for Washington and a more tolerant environment where medical marijuana users are treated with dignity and respect.
“I got a job at Happy Trees and love it here,” Birdsbill says. “My work helping people to discover the many wonderful products available is very fulfilling.”
Prior to the legalization of recreational marijuana, Brice operated a medical collective in Tacoma. One of his former patients mentioned the charming town of Cle Elum, located east of the Cascades in Kittitas County. It sparked Brice’s interest.
When it came time to apply for licenses in the state retail lottery, Brice applied for one of the four licenses available in Kittitas County. To his delight, he won.
He promptly packed up and headed east, knowing he wanted to operate a unique cannabis retailer that would stand out from the crowd.
Happy Trees is an appropriate name for a visually stimulating retail environment that combines many different elements, from whimsical to artsy to 1960s psychedelic. It’s a retail environment you won’t soon forget once you experience Brice’s interpretation of what a pot shop’s vibe should be.
“The hope is not just finding great marijuana, but it’s truly about the experience and the comfort of finally knowing we made it here and it’s safe,” Brice says. “It’s where I want to grab a bean bag chair, sit down and relax.”