Husband-and-wife team bring modern conventions to one of Washington’s first cannabis retail stores
What’s old is new again as New Vansterdam, one of Washington’s first adult-use cannabis stores to be licensed, has completed a massive remodel, effectively modernizing the store’s shopping experience while also quadrupling its selection of products and more than tripling its retail floorspace.
Owners Rachel and James Bean reestablished the business to be what James calls “a grocery store for cannabis,” with more than 3,500 different products clearly separated into departments.
“I think Vancouver is the most competitive market in Washington so we had to offer something additional that customers couldn’t get at other stores,” James says. “We wanted to offer the best selection, where other stores didn’t have the space to carry it.”
Opening New Doors
The renovation took New Vansterdam from roughly 1,000 square feet of retail space to 3,300. The expanded floorplan includes new fixtures and vaulted ceilings, and the extra vertical space provided room to install 15 new 60-inch TVs to display electronic menus.
Commissioned artwork divides the store into individual departments, which was a focus for the Beans. In addition to flower, pre-rolls and edibles, New Vansterdam features new sections such as CBMD, the store’s CBD department with more than 500 CBD SKUs, and The Gas Station, which houses all the oils and concentrates and a gargantuan selection of glass and accessories. Social media-worthy touches such as the vintage gas pump and neon “I got baked in Vancouver” sign help bring each department’s theme to life.
“The idea is to transform people,” James says. “They walk in and it’s an experience. They are excited to be in the store. They take pictures, put them on Facebook and tell their friends where they went.”
“I think one of the best compliments that I hear from our customers is that it feels homey, that it feels warm,” Rachel adds. “It’s not this sterile, feed-you-your-weed-out-of-a-window-and-off-you-go store.”
On top of expanding New Vansterdam’s selection of cannabis products, the Beans also revamped the shop’s glass and accessories department.
“We quadrupled that as well,” Rachel says. “We double as a head shop and a cannabis store.”
The Old New Vansterdam
In the early stages of recreational marijuana sales in Washington, New Vansterdam, which opened for business in July 2014, was regularly one of the top 10 stores in revenue.
As local competition increased and neighboring Oregon legalized adult-use cannabis, the fervor quelled, and New Vansterdam, while still successful, shifted from being an attraction to simply another pot store.
That is, until James and Rachel became majority shareholders in the company.
Although nearby competitors include Main Street Marijuana, Washington’s long-time leader in monthly sales, and the roughly 200 cannabis retailers just across the river in Portland, Oregon, James says the company has been steadily growing its customer base at a rate of 10% each month since the husband-and-wife team took over the business in March 2018.
“Just walking into it, I could see the potential, but I knew it was going to take a lot of work to get it done,” he says.
The store has a prime location along one of the city’s major roads, but structurally, the building had a few issues. The problem wasn’t that the location was a check cashing business until the original owners of New Vansterdam adapted it for cannabis sales; it was that it looked like a check cashing facility that had been adapted for cannabis sales.
The original layout for New Vansterdam would have been perfect for a dispensary during Washington’s medical cannabis era. It was secure. It had an ample space for a waiting room, and it was compartmentalized enough to accommodate for patient consultation rooms away from the main sales floor.
“It was kind of this weird serpentine floorplan,” Rachel says.
In its original iteration, the store featured a 90-foot wall as an art gallery, which endeared the company to local artists, but also left 90 feet of potential selling space that didn’t earn any money.
In short, New Vansterdam needed a makeover.
“After we bought it, we just went in and started knocking out walls,” Rachel says.
“We took a chainsaw to it,” James adds.
Customers, whether they’re shopping for cannabis or another other product, never enjoy hearing a chainsaw fire up while they are shopping, so James and Rachel decided to remodel the building at night. With James’ background in retail consulting and buying, remodeling and selling homes, the couple decided to handle the remodel themselves.
For roughly a year, as the last customers of the day would leave the store at 11 p.m., James and Rachel would be walking in with construction equipment. James says they would work “as long as we could,” each night until the business reopened at 8 a.m. the following day.
“We had to find a way to still make it a pleasant experience, to keep the staff happy, the budtenders happy and to keep it safe during an open environment,” James says.
In short bursts, the couple would demolish a small section of the store’s interior. They knocked down a large section of the second floor to make room for the vaulted ceilings and kept a small remaining portion of the second floor for inventory, accounting and staff. Although the store quadrupled its selection of products, Rachel and James decided early on to only buy smaller amounts of inventory, freeing up a lot of space and allowing them to control for buying trends and avoid costly buying mistakes.
The early hours of each morning were spent segregating the construction from the active retail floor and cleaning until the store was presentable. During business hours, translucent plastic would make temporary walls of the retail floor, inching in different directions throughout the course of the remodel.
“It’s like working on an engine while it’s still running,” James says.
The remodel is still a work in progress with ongoing smaller alterations to décor and the occasional new fixture. But the Beans say the new design will be carried into future New Vansterdam locations.
Altogether, Rachel estimates the store was closed for only about one day.
“It’s been a really positive thing, not only for our staff but for our customers too,” Rachel says.
Piece by piece, Rachel and James transformed New Vansterdam into one of the state’s biggest cannabis retail stores with a competitive product selection and a design to carry the brand into the next decade. The countless nights the couple spent tearing down and rebuilding New Vansterdam was all worth it after seeing the increase in traffic and hearing praise from regular and returning customers.
“People were like, ‘oh my gosh,’” Rachel says. “They can’t believe it is the same store.”