When David Ellison decided to open a cannabis retail store in Toronto, he had only a vague notion of what he wanted it to look like.
As a longtime Grateful Dead enthusiast, Ellison wanted the shop to pay tribute to his favorite rock band without relying on the overt imagery and stereotypes one might expect of a psychedelic theme. He wanted a shop that would appeal to the general public, while making an esoteric connection with fellow Deadheads.
“I want to be in the transportation business,” he says, paraphrasing a famous line from Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. “I want to transport people somewhere when they come into the store, really transport them to an altered state of consciousness.”
To turn his abstract vision into a retail reality, Ellison enlisted SevenPoint Interiors to create the entire Scarlet Fire brand, starting with a logo and ending with the breathtaking new shop on Bathurst Street in the Clanton Park neighborhood of Toronto.
“I gave them some abstract ideas and let them work with a blank canvas,” Ellison says, “but, you know, somehow those guys were able to get into my head and they really did some wonderful magic to put it together.”
Lighting the Fire
SevenPoint Interiors turned out to be the perfect company to take Scarlet Fire from concept design to final buildout.
Ellison was a securities lawyer for 20 years before he “decided to drop out of the rat race and sell cannabis.” He had no experience in design or construction; “I don’t know if I have a creative bone in my body,” he muses.
“He had a ton of knowledge on where he wanted to take his brand,” SevenPoint creative director Desmond Chan says. “He just didn’t know how to get there.”
Behind the leadership of Chan and Randy Simmen, the company’s head of design, SevenPoint developed the Scarlet Fire brand from the ground up, starting with the logo and graphic elements and working through the retail space and the unique design elements that make Scarlet Fire a dispensary experience unlike any other.
“We were able to really tie the whole story together from the color choices to the cassette tapes that we used as product cards on the shelves,” Simmen says.
Ellison gave the SevenPoint team free reign over the project, encouraging the designers to be as creative as they could in transforming what was once a soulless check-cashing store into a modern, welcoming cannabis retailer.
Scarlet Fire was designed by Desmond Chan, Jano Badovinac, Randy Simmen and Veronica Ria – brand and logo development was done by Enya Vegter.
“I told them, ‘The only condition I have is that every time you pick it up, you have the most fun you’ve ever had in your life,’” Ellison says.
One of SevenPoint’s biggest strengths is being able to provide everything a client needs, from branding to buildout, on time and on budget.
“I think what really sets us apart is that we understand the end-to-end process,” says Danielle Marzarella, the company’s vice president of business development.
SevenPoint specializes in fabricating custom retail fixtures and other retail components, providing a seamless process from concept to construction. Its team of specialists like Holly Cottrell, its U.S.-based cannabis category expert and operations consultant, and Neal Classen, an expert on the Canadian cannabis market who heads the company’s business in that country, help the firm maintain its ability to be a full-service, turnkey, end-to-end solution and provide optimized sales and the best in-store experience for any client in North America. The manufacturing side of the business ensures all components are made to withstand the wear and tear of a retail environment, in addition to achieving the right fit and finish for the customer.
“We have strategically positioned ourselves in the market to not look at each client we deal with as a one-size-fits-all approach because of the scale and depth and breadth of what we bring to the table,” Marzarella says. “We really look at each client’s needs.”
The SevenPoint team is committed to “elevating” cannabis retail design by producing some of the most striking retail environments in the industry and by helping retailers connect with consumers.
Is the store well lit? Are there enough educational displays? Is the store designed for high traffic or is it more laid back and relaxed? How are the cannabis products going to be displayed? How can the retail space be maximized?
This allows dispensary owners and operators to focus on what they do best.
“It’s about understanding the operations and then, obviously, the brand itself,” Marzarella says. “And how do you bring the look and feel of the brand into that retail environment? It’s all these different parts and pieces that create an elevated experience, but at the end of the day, it’s about selling the product.”
David Ellison saw his first Grateful Dead show at the age of 17 in 1991.
“I fell down the rabbit hole big time that day,” he says, “and I’m glad I continued to tumble and never found my way out.”
Known for their impressive live shows and devoted fan base, the Grateful Dead were masters of improvisation, never playing a song or set the same way twice.
“It’s a band that took risks on stage,” Ellison says. He wanted that metaphor to hold true when describing the design choices that make Scarlet Fire unique.
“We set out to create something special,” he says.
And that one-of-a-kind retail experience starts even before customers walk in the front door. One of the most striking elements is a series of holes cut into walls in the store that allows people to see from the entrance all the way to the very back of the shop.
“It looks entirely different from the inside than it does from the outside,” Ellison says.
It’s almost impossible to describe in words and even difficult to show in photos — it has to be seen in person — but it creates somewhat of an optical illusion that stops passers-by in their tracks and even catches the attention of some drivers on the street.
Ellison calls it the “rabbit hole” and says, to him, it represents his journey to becoming a Grateful Dead superfan that started more than 30 years ago.
For both Ellison, the store owner, and Chan, the designer, the “rabbit hole” is their favorite thing about Scarlet Fire.
Another Grateful Dead-inspired design piece is the “wall of sound” at the back of the store, a replica of a giant sound system used by the band in the 1970s, featuring pass-through drawers from the cannabis vault that are designed as speaker boxes.
“Just the way we were able to scale that pattern and modernize it, it’s the perfect backdrop to the space,” Simmen says. “That’s my favorite spot for sure.”
And of course, Scarlet Fire is adorned with a massive collection of Grateful Dead memorabilia Ellison has collected over the years, including album covers, a pair of Jerry Garcia replica guitars, dozens of tour posters and numerous T-shirts — not the least of which is the very first Grateful Dead shirt Ellison ever bought, a purchase made at a Florida flea market at the age of 16.
The memorabilia gives the shop an added level of authenticity, Simmen says, because Ellison is somebody who lives and breathes the Grateful Dead.
“It’s such a big part of his identity,” he says. “Everywhere you look, there’s something to see.”
The Modular Option
Not every project SevenPoint tackles is as ambitious as Scarlet Fire.
For example, Puff’s Haven is a cannabis retail shop located near Downtown Toronto that SevenPoint designed. Puff’s Haven was an ideal fit for the company’s modular system, using pre-engineered components that save time and money, while still giving the customer the ability to customize the materials, finishes and colors to meet their branding needs.
At Puff’s Haven, the goal was to create a premium retail experience on a tight budget and a quick turnaround, while making the most out of a small retail space.
“We kept it really clean and minimal and chose a couple of premium materials to highlight the space,” Chan says. “Space planning was key. It’s only about 750 square feet, but it’s packed with punch.”
The company selected a “Midnight Luxe” motif with dark wood grain finishes and brass accents and designed the space with efficiency in mind to allow ample storage space on the floor, well-lit displays, self-service menus and express check-outs.
“We design with purpose,” Chan says. “We really listen to what clients want, but we also set them up for success.”
Marzarella says there’s no project too big or too small for SevenPoint to handle, whether it’s managing all the design and manufacturing needs for some of the industry’s largest retail chains, such as corporate clients Cresco Labs, Curaleaf and Spiritleaf, or fabricating fixtures for a small, single-shop outfit like Puff’s Haven.
She credits that philosophy to John Simmen and Robert Turk, the owners of Seven Point Interiors and its parent company, Visual Elements.
“Even if they know a client is only going to buy this one small fixture, they will handle that with as much enthusiasm as they will one of their largest clients,” she says.
Ellison says it’s been a fun and interesting transition to go from being a downtown, suit-and-tie lawyer to wearing sneakers and tie dye shirts to work.
He had seen the drawings and 3D renderings of what Scarlet Fire would look like during the design process, but when he finally saw the actual shop, he was blown away.
“The evolution of how it started and how it finished was just amazing,” he says. “I am so grateful for the designers and the effort they put in and their care and attention to detail. They somehow got right into my brain, and let me tell you, that could probably be a very scary place to be sometimes.”
He says he loves the shop and his job so much that he goes in just about every day.
“Even on my days off,” he says, “I come and check in. I just like to hang out there.”