Designed to be Different

Justice Grown already had licensed cultivation operations in Illinois and California when Jamil Taylor set out to find the right architectural firm to help create the company’s retail arm in Pennsylvania.

After seeing the layout and design for one of Justice Grown’s clients, Dispensary 33 in Chicago, Taylor had two questions: Who did the design? And could they do it for Justice Grown?

The answers were found just a half-mile down the road from Taylor’s Chicago office, at Perimeter Architects and Construction. Taylor, Justice Grown’s vice president of business development, reached out to Perimeter and after some discussion, principals John Issa and Branyo Dvorak agreed to take on the project.

“They’re a small team so it kind of fits our style of one-on-one attention,” Taylor says.

For cannabis retailers, gated delivery docks and convenient customer parking are two distinct advantages not commonly found in larger cities.

A Long Way from the City

As the nation’s third-largest city, Chicago has a reputation for world-class shopping experiences. The city’s Magnificent Mile boasts some of the finest retail establishments in North America and there is little doubt that it influenced the design of Dispensary 33, which garnered accolades for its luxurious, innovative style.

But the look of Perimeter’s first cannabis retail design probably wouldn’t have the same effect in Edwardsville, Pennsylvania, a blue-collar town of about 5,000 residents. The high-end aesthetics that worked for Dispensary 33 on Chicago’s North Side would fit into Edwardsville about as well as a tiara at a rodeo.

“This was not Chicago, so we had to play that up a little since it was a different audience,” Issa says.

The goal for Justice Grown was to capture the warmth and welcoming atmosphere of a coffee lounge and deliver something distinctly Pennsylvanian and mindful of the state’s regulations.

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is based on a “strictly medical” set of guidelines, Taylor says. Most of the state’s 17 qualifying conditions are either terminal or debilitating illnesses. All medical marijuana dispensaries in Pennsylvania are required to have a pharmacist on staff during business hours. Dispensaries are prohibited from selling cannabis flower, so Justice Grown can only sell processed cannabis products, such as tinctures, capsules and vape cartridges.

The Edwardsville dispensary is Justice Grown’s first retail location and a template for future stores in Pennsylvania, California and Illinois. As a state-licensed cultivator in Illinois and California, Justice Grown had established its consumer-facing brand, but the retail arm is a chance for the company to solidify an experiential identity.

The idea, Dvorak says, was to create a dispensary that “looked like an Intelligentsia Coffee shop,” referring to the Chicago-based chain known for its bright, open, artsy cafes.

Perimeter aimed for “a clean, crisp and professional feel” for Justice Grown, “but not sterile where it’s more like a doctor’s office,” Dvorak says.

“The things we wanted were a very bright environment, a very cozy feel,” Taylor says. “We wanted to have nature in our build with the wooden shelves and the wooden wall with our logo painted on it. All of those things related to the feel of Edwardsville, the feel of Pennsylvania.”

Perimeter kept the sales floor open by placing product inside displays built into the walls and on custom-made shelving.

A Natural Design

Perimeter’s use of natural colors and materials — such as the reclaimed wood ceilings and wood-panel walls that are finished but still have texture — provide the professional-yet-warm atmosphere Justice Grown was seeking. The company’s logo can be found on the black wood-panel wall to the left of the reception area and over the bare wood of the bookshelf to the right of the sales floor, merging the identity of Justice Grown with nature without ever forcing it onto center stage.

In terms of function, Taylor says he knew the store should have three components in its layout: a welcoming waiting room, a tidy sales floor and a consultation room where customers could talk to a pharmacist or patient care advocate.

With the comfort of patients in mind, Perimeter designed the retail space with all the rooms being visible from the store’s entrance, so customers with debilitating conditions don’t have to walk farther than about 30 feet.

“They don’t have to sit in a long line or push through a huge facility,” Taylor says. “It’s very easy for them to come in and out.”

Working with an interior space of about 1,600 square feet — roughly the size of a convenience store — the designers opted for a more vertical layout, keeping the floors open and the product on the walls to avoid crowding. Since space was limited, Perimeter also incorporated displays built into the walls, an imbedded digital menu in the sales room and a stylish, wall-spanning shelf built with bare two-by-fours that Taylor calls “the little library.”

Using the black, white and green from the company’s logo, every aspect of the interior was rebuilt, except the front doors and pre-existing hardwood floors that were refurbished. Each element of the interior design was evaluated, adjusted and re-evaluated several times over.

“The back wall behind the POS station at Justice Grown, that alone was four or five meetings about how to display things,” Issa says.

That back wall serves as a perfect example of Perimeter’s ability to use design and architecture together to create flexible solutions. The company knew it wanted a display behind the sales counter but needed the ability to switch products in and out with ease. To maintain that flexibility, Perimeter produced a “glorified pegboard” that is sturdy enough to hold large shelving units but spaced out enough to hold merchandise on hangers without breaking the cohesive design of the store.

Designing and building custom displays is a risk, but both Dvorak and Issa agree the greater evil is producing a mundane retail experience.

A Secure Path Ahead

Security was another aspect of the Justice Grown dispensary that required some flexibility.

Taylor, Dvorak and Issa agreed that security was necessary and important, but they didn’t want it to be a visible part of the store.

“That was part of the challenge,” Issa says. “They wanted it to be secure, but not a person-behind-bullet-proof-glass-in-a-cage like in a pawn shop. We had to figure that out.”

A measure like armed security would run counter to Justice Grown’s mission of promoting cannabis as a medical product no different than those found at a local pharmacy. So, instead, a gated entrance protects the rear entry point of the store for pickups and deliveries, and security cameras in small, black domes discreetly monitor every room and point of access inside the facility. The back office also has a double-concrete, temperature-controlled vault.

The need for security in a customer-friendly atmosphere was a new concern for Justice Grown, which had previously only set up cultivation facilities. Taylor hopes the company will receive a cultivation permit in Pennsylvania, which will help the business expand into new locations.

Currently, Justice Grown is licensed for three medical dispensaries in Pennsylvania and is seeking new opportunities in California, where it plans to continue using the design choices made in Edwardsville.

Attention to detail and the highly collaborative effort between Justice Grown and Perimeter — “Jamil was involved down to picking light fixtures,” Issa says — helped set the stage for a national retail brand.

“I think we came up with a solid design that we will be able to use for all of our future dispensaries,” Taylor says. “It’s going to be the flagship design that people can recognize our facility by.”

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