It’s the nature that draws people to places like Ketchikan, Alaska, a wilderness that feels closer, more present, more real than in the Lower 48. It draws the 1.5 million tourists each year that power the city’s economy and double its population when the cruise ships dock, just as it draws city kids from all around the country with the promise of adventure.
Eric Riemer understands the call of the wild. It’s the same thing that drew him from Chicago to be a wilderness stress counselor for troubled teens in the woods of Southern Illinois, to take a summer adventure to make some extra money in the wilds of Alaska and, ultimately, to stay and become a commercial fisherman in the Last Frontier.
That reverence for nature is also what drives him to make sure his vertically integrated cannabis company, The Stoney Moose, including its storefront, farm and kitchen, operate as sustainably as possible, including using biodegradable packaging for all its products.
The retail store, located in the city’s historic downtown, is framed by majestic mountains on one side and a salmon-filled creek off the back, and features a mural highlighting the beauty and magic of the area.
“If you look out the back door, it’s like a Hollywood movie set, honestly. You’re looking at buildings built on a creek with salmon that are running up the creek in droves,” Riemer says. “It is important to me to keep this place nice.”
The pristine nature of the area flows into everything Stoney Moose does, from the organic living soil used at Stoney Moose Farms to the all-natural ingredients used at Stoney Moose Kitchen to the biodegradable packing used on all Stoney Moose products. It’s a company that reflects the natural beauty of the area where it was born, and that focus has helped it become one of the most popular and trusted brands in the state.
“Ultimately, it’s about connection and it’s about doing good in your community and imparting good experiences for our customers,” Riemer says.
Personal and Professional Values
Riemer calls Stoney Moose’s dedication to staying green a “personal value” that extends from the organic inputs and ingredients used in growing and manufacturing to the packaging used for all Stoney Moose products.
“We’re just trying to stay as pure as possible,” he says. “And then with our packaging, we went with biodegradable packaging options for our retail stores.”
Riemer says he was “shocked” at the amount of plastic that he saw in the industry when the Stoney Moose first opened and decided then that he wanted to make sure his packaging was as pure as the products as he was selling, wanting to customers to feel good about the products they were consuming and about the company they were buying from.
Because of that, the company uses living soil and organic amendments in the soil at Stoney Moose Farms and uses natural, organic ingredients for the high-quality edibles produced at Stoney Moose Kitchens. It also means paying a bit more for biodegradable packaging — about 6 to 12 cents more per pre-roll tube, for example — but Riemer says his time working in the pristine environment and natural fisheries of Alaska hammered home the importance of being good stewards of the planet.
“It impacts the bottom line, as far as profitability goes, but we’re not here only to make money,” he says. “We’re here to live our lives and, hopefully, do so in a responsible manner that brings health and joy to other people in the world.”
With its mural, wood décor, hand-drawn menus and “high vibes,” The Stoney Moose retail store in downtown Ketchikan draws both locals and tourists alike. Opened in 2017 as just a single, 200-square-foot room while the remaining buildout of the store was being completed, the building can actually trace its history back to the other Prohibition, complete with a trap door for smuggling alcohol into the city.
“They used to smuggle liquor in from Canada and bring it up the creek at high tide and pass it through the floors of these establishments,” says Riemer.
Today, it’s mostly tourists that find their way to the city’s downtown, dropped off by the cruise ships that dock in the harbor throughout the season, and into the Stoney Moose to celebrate the end of cannabis prohibition. According to Riemer, the focus on tourists means stocking the store with items like single-serving edibles, pre-rolls or other products that can be consumed before they get back on the boat. However, the company also serves the small, but dedicated local population of the island and makes sure to stock the flower, pre-roll packs and high-THC servings common among all cannabis retail shops.
“When we first started, we didn’t even know if we would be able to stay open through the winter,” Riemer says, adding that the shop generally focuses on the needs of its regulars. “We were really surprised with the support that Ketchikan has, and the need for high quality cannabis retail, and the community is super busy in the wintertime as well.”
As the shop continued to grow, the need for products to stock the shelves led Riemer to pursue verticality out of necessity. With the store located on an island, Riemer says that though there were a couple of local growers, most products had to be sourced somewhere on the mainland and brought back to The Stoney Moose, significantly increasing costs.
“By and large, the majority of the industry is up north in Anchorage and on the road system,” he says. “So we were doing a lot of traveling that first year in order to keep the shop stocked with edibles and vape cartridges.”
In 2018, Riemer decided it would be smarter to make his own edibles — that way he could not only ensure the products met Stoney Moose’s standards, but also that the store always had product to sell, not to mention expand the brand’s reach by selling its edibles in other shops around the state.
Riemer and his team purchased an old boat condo that was for sale and then “pooled [their] various talents” to transform it into a working cannabis edibles kitchen. The company worked through the winter developing and perfecting its recipes, and designing and sourcing the packaging, finally launching the product into the market in 2019.
“It was a huge amount of fun. And also hard,” he says.
Also in 2018, the opportunity arose to purchase the first licensed farm on Ketchikan from an older cultivator whose business was beginning to fail. The property and opportunity were good, so they brought in a professional grower from the northern part of the state to help create the type of operation and flower that fit with Riemer’s natural and sustainable vision for Stoney Moose.
“The vision was always to grow living soil flower, to grow top quality organic bud, because that’s what we’re all about,” he says.
Today, Stoney Moose Farms harvests about 20 to 25 pounds every month from its three grow rooms. Riemer says the flower goes primarily to the retail store because it’s mostly too good to turn to food-grade oil; the company purchases CO2-extracted oil wholesale from a living soil grow operation in Juneau for the products made at Stoney Moose Kitchens. Because Stoney Moose does not have extraction capabilities, Riemer works with other companies from around the state to turn some of the Stoney Moose flower into vape cartridges, waxes and other concentrates.
Riemer says he likes to take a holistic approach to everything Stoney Moose does. From the soil inputs on the farm to the full-spectrum oils used in the kitchen to the biodegradable packaging sold at the store, Riemer sees everything as being connected.
“As far as the plant goes, I want to use the whole plant and incorporate that whole plant experience into a cannabis experience rather than just something to get you high,” he says. “But in the business sense, holistically, we’re not just out there to maximize our sales. What we want to do is provide a fantastic experience to all of our customers.”
Riemer says he wants The Stoney Moose to be a “happy spot” for his customers, like he used to feel going to the video game store as a kid.
Part of that means not only having educated budtenders, but making sure they — and all of Stoney Moose’s 20 employees — are taken care of and happy as well, so he provides paid time accruals to ensure that workers can have the proper work-life balance.
“That kind of attitude and energy rolls right into the products we’re creating,” he says. “The Stoney Moose wants to be an uplifting, positive, healthy, intellectual space; someplace people like to go to and look forward to going back.”