It might not have been as big a moment as the day retail sales began in Denver on Jan. 1. There were no national media gawking or television cameras rolling last Friday at 8:30 a.m. About 50 or 60 people, some from the Amendment 64 movement, a city councilman, one photographer, a reporter and a dog with a tooth appointment were crowded into the old Dunkin Donuts building at Folsom and Canyon.
There were a few short speeches about the historicity of the moment before city council member Macon Cowles, saying he had waited more than 40 years for this moment, cut the ribbon with owner Chris Woods that officially opened Terrapin Station, Boulder’s first retail cannabis shop.
After that, it was just adults finally purchasing a legal product long (and still, by many) regarded as the spawn of the devil.
But for Boulder businessman Woods, it was a major moment. Woods is indicative of the many people I have been meeting with in the cannabis business the last few months. Hardly the offspring of the aforementioned Satan, he’s bright, young, curious, amiable, unassuming and intimately involved in making Terrapin Station succeed. For Woods, the opening of the retail store is the beginning of a new chapter in a story that continues to unfold. He studied engineering and graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2009 with a degree in applied mathematics and was heading out to Telluride to ski for a year when a sequence of events brought him into the cannabis business here.
“I had some business experience in running a development company,” Woods says. “People were starting to get licenses and start companies, and we started talking to landlords in Boulder about leasing commercial real estate to run grow operations.”
Initially the idea was just to be on the production end. But in June 2010 Colorado HB 10-1284 was passed, which, besides requiring dispensaries to get state and local licensing and to be in compliance with local zoning codes, also mandated vertical integration of the supply chain, which required dispensaries to grow 70 percent of what they sold.
“At the time we had at least 5,000 square feet of commercial real estate, and we had built out a grow operation,” Woods explains. “But we didn’t have a front end as mandated to vertically integrate the supply chain.”
At the time, Boulder was awash in medical shops, and Woods finally found a space in south Boulder, where he opened the first Terrapin Station medical dispensary in June 2010.
“I paid the landlord at the time a premium for the space. It was small, but it met the requirements for vertical integration,” he says. Terrapin quickly became popular because of its low prices and customer loyalty.
“We were a little late to the game, but it was one of the first businesses to be able to capitalize on the efficiency of vertical integration and pass that savings on to the consumer.”
Encouraged that Amendment 64 was going to pass, he began looking for a downtown location in September 2012 and signed the lease for the Folsom store in June last year and began operating as a medical facility. He converted the shop to retail with a soft opening after he got his state license on Tuesday, just a few hours after Karing Kind, which is north of Boulder on U.S. 36, became the first retail operation to open in the county.
Woods’ background in engineering and mathematics and easy-going temperament proved perfect for running a business whose rules change frequently, who isn’t allowed to work with financial institutions and whose product is still considered illegal under federal law.
“It’s a dream job — despite its stress and heartache and aging I’ve endured,” Woods admits.
Amendment 64 dictated strict dates for creating rules and regulations for retail sales, which put pressure on state and local governments to write them. In Boulder the September flood pushed back deliberations in Boulder. The process was contentious at times, but Woods is encouraged by what’s happen ing now between state and city officials and cannabis businesses.
“I do feel with this most recent sweep of rules and regs and what not, that there’s going to be a more stable foundation, and we won’t have to worry about the getting-shut-down piece,” he says.
Overall, he says, he’s been impressed with how easily things have gone. His worst moments came last year when his Denver grow operation had to wait for a license during a state audit of the Department of Revenue.
“There was a backlog, and we couldn’t open until we got a local license,” he says. “We were delayed about a month, paying bills and employees and not being able to open.”
Having seen many entrepreneurs collapse over debt or finance issues in the last few years, he’s rightfully cautious.
“This whole business is still in its adolescence in terms of where it’s going,” Woods says. “It’s a great business, but it requires diligence, ingenuity, and blood, sweat and tears. I have to be very careful with my resources. But I played sports in college, and I love being part of a team.”
Right now, business is brisk and the team is busy working out logistics for smoother customer flow. He’s already adding two more cash registers and is looking to add to his 34-employee staff. Terrapin opens its retail outlet with lower prices than most Denver locations so far, with eighths of an ounce priced at $25, $35 and $45.
“The fact that we have a store open and that you can buy this in Boulder,” Woods says, “we’re changing the world.”
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