Neon Nights

Local Roots and Dillon Works revisit the design process behind unique themed location

At night, the parking lot at Local Roots is flooded by twenty-somethings posing with their cars for Instagram photos in front of the pulsating LED lights.

“I’ve had a full-on car show pull up here in the middle of the night,” says Rahn Bruns, the company’s 33-year-old founding director and owner.

Local Roots looks more like a nightclub than most of the actual nightclubs in the area. The store’s Vegas-style exterior reflects neon off every piece of glass on the surrounding block. Inside, the shop feels alive with vivid colors and bright lights emanating from the fixtures and a unique, geometric sculpture. That’s because Bruns is a man who believes in a powerful production. And with eight competing cannabis shops nearby in Everett, Washington, he needs his business to shine like a beacon.

Bruns calls that strip of Highway 99 “the Gauntlet.”

“You really have to stand out or you’re going to drown,” he says. “It’s just that simple.”

  • Initial concepts developed by the Dillon Works and Local Roots teams show the  evolution of the store’s design. Photos courtesy of Dillon Works.

  • Initial concepts developed by the Dillon Works and Local Roots teams show the  evolution of the store’s design. Photos courtesy of Dillon Works.

  • Initial concepts developed by the Dillon Works and Local Roots teams show the  evolution of the store’s design. Photos courtesy of Dillon Works.

A Grandiose Opportunity

The vibrant and stylish Local Roots flagship store came together somewhat by happenstance, as anti-cannabis rhetoric from the Trump Administration scared Bruns’ former landlord, forcing him to change business locations.

After finding and leasing a transmission repair shop near a major artery of the city, Bruns took the move as an opportunity to build a store that embraces the recreational side of cannabis without playing on any of the “stoner stereotypes” that were commonplace in the state’s early medical market.

“In medical, everything was so loose and geared toward stoners,” Bruns says. “After legalization, people fought against that medical stereotype so hard that they ended up with a really stale-feeling store.”

Bruns wanted something grandiose and entertaining to separate his business from the glut of coffeehouse-style boutiques and strip-mall retailers popping up across the Pacific Northwest. But he wasn’t looking for a template design that he could then bring to his four other stores, which also have custom designs. This store was a special project.

He hired Dillon Works, a custom design and fabrication company well known for elaborate, eye-catching constructions, including M&M’s World in Shanghai, the NBA flagship store in New York and AT&T’s flagship store in San Francisco. Allan Carandang, the senior art director for Dillon Works, says the opportunity “was something fun to add to our repertoire.”

Local Roots owner and founding director Rahn Bruns has steadily built his company into a successful chain of five retail stores. Photos by Garrett Rudolph.

Bringing it to Life

After expansive feedback, Dillon Works began drafting design concepts.

At first, the massive sculpture inside the store was going to be a physical manifestation of the THC chemical compound, with each hexagon protruding from the wall as an illuminated shadowbox to display product. Bruns liked the idea of the illuminated sculpture and shadowboxes, but not necessarily together.

The shadowboxes now frame the company’s logo and LED displays with the same color-changing neon lights that run along the bottom perimeter of the store. The sculpture takes center stage in Local Roots’ “wall of glory,” a giant, uninterrupted display of hundreds of different products on shelves, hangers and in acrylic cases that stretch to the high ceilings.

Bruns says the wall was partly inspired by a mnemonic inventory managing tip he picked up from a glass seller: “You own it, you show it.” But his main reason was to “create a wall that is so outrageously huge compared to anybody else so that it’s in its own category,” Bruns says.

The nearly 30-foot-high walls provide a backdrop for the acrylic structure that seemingly bursts out of the vinyl wall pattern of geometric shapes. It’s an impressive way to get customers to crane their necks upward and take in the size of the selection and store itself.

“I wanted to have something over-the-top that was high and big placed on the walls, really drawing your eyes and highlighting the size of that wall,” he says.

The illuminated geometric sculpture climbing out from the corner of Local Roots is roughly eight separate pieces that fit together. Dillon Works left Bruns with several additional pieces of the sculpture for his current or future locations. Carandang describes it as “a puzzle that you can make as big or as small as you want.” Bruns says he intends to use the remaining pieces on the building’s exterior, which faces one of the busiest intersections in the city.

“This is going to be the loudest building in Everett,” Bruns says.

Bruns says design firms he’s worked with in the past would insist on fabricating every fixture inside his store, inflating the cost of the project. To his delight, Dillon Works customized the display cases along the sales counter and the flower smelling station he purchased from Bud Bar Displays, saving him time and money.

A Collaborative Design Process

Initially, Bruns didn’t intend to build a neon nightclub. Aside from several “loose ideas,” he didn’t have a specific vision for what the new store would be when he reached out to Carandang and the team at Dillon Works. But he knew he wanted it to be big. He wanted to capitalize on the size of the new building, as well as its prime location.

At the first meeting in the Dillon Works offices, Carandang asked Bruns and his associates to pour through countless images of patterns, colors, textures, fixtures and even plants, as well as several different retail spaces and leave messages on post-it notes on the photos they felt strongly about.

“I had a bunch of ideas that, once I sat down with them and really started to hash them out, decided against them,” Bruns says. Originally, Bruns wanted to go with rounded shapes and an almost cartoonish feel — “something you’d expect to see in an M&M store.”

By the end of the meeting, Bruns was ready to head the exact opposite direction.

“Everything here has harsh edges, 90-degree angles, geometric (shapes) — there’s nothing in here rounded,” he says of the final design.

Based on the feedback, Dillon Works formed a project mission with design parameters, a list of deliverables, an initial floor plan and a list of key terms of what would and would not define the new Local Roots location.

“He (Bruns) came up with a lot of good words; he talked about symbolism, he talked about a nightclub feel that still catered to the young and old,” Carandang says. “He wanted to keep the black and green of their branding identity, but then introduced new colors to make it upbeat.”

Although Bruns’ nightclub-style cannabis shop has been fully realized, he isn’t content to create just one standout.

Local Roots has two of the eight stores in “the Gauntlet,” plus three more located just a few miles away, north of Seattle.

Bruns says he wants his next design to be something “completely different.”

“By that I mean fun, entertaining, over the top … different,” Bruns says. “We never set out for this to be our theme and there’s just so many cool ideas out there.”

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