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Fresno dispensary is days away from opening. See inside the city’s first cannabis store

Fresno Bee 7/8/2022 Joshua Tehee, The Fresno Bee

When The Artist Tree opens its doors Monday morning in northwest Fresno, it will be as the city’s first retail cannabis dispensary.

That’s no small thing, given that Fresno was one of the last open territories in this emerging market and the largest California city without recreational, brick-and-mortar pot shops. The process to bring legal weed to Fresno has taken nearly five years and come with political arguments, public hearings, accusations of unfairness and lawsuits.

According to the city, of the 21 retail cannabis licenses awarded, The Artist Tree was the first to have its business permit approved.

A second, Embarc, had its permit approved on Thursday and will open at Blackstone Avenue at Gettysburg Avenue on Wednesday, according to advertisements.

Just one other, Infinity Assets on Shaw Avenue across from Fashion Fair, has an approved conditional use permit.

“It is so exciting, I can’t even put it into words,” says Lauren Fontein, who is part of an ownership team at The Artist Tree that includes Fresno developer Cliff Tutelian and attorney Lawrence Artenian. She’s been involved with the Fresno store since the beginning and worked through the application process.

“It’s been a labor of love for us all,” she says.

The Artist Tree is used to these kinds of firsts.

The Fresno store is part of a larger company that operates four other locations in Southern California.

The Artist Tree was the first dispensary to open in West Hollywood and the first to operate in unincorporated Riverside County.

“To be able to set the standard is kind of nice,” Fontein says.

What it’s like inside The Artist Tree

The Fresno store is tucked in the back of the Park Place Shopping Center on Palm and Nees avenues, just around the corner from GB3. From the street, there’s nothing to distinguish it as a dispensary.

It could be mistaken for an art gallery.

Which it is, kind of.

Along with cannabis products, The Artist Tree provides gallery space as a way to promote art and artists in the areas it serves. The company contracts with a curator to oversee rotating exhibits, which are offered without commission fees. QR codes on the wall direct customers to a website where they can buy the art.

For its inaugural exhibit, the store has nearly three dozen pieces from Fresno artists Lance Anderson, Joan Sharma and Nicolas Rattaire, filled out with a smattering of others from Los Angeles artists.

Inside, The Artist Tree is big, bright and open. The 2,700-square-foot sale floor is anchored by a cultivation cube, a glass room filled with plants that serves as a kind of educational platform, where customers can see cannabis in its growing stage.

A row of purple filtered lights illuminate the box 24 hours a day to keep the plants from flowering.

The so-called “clone” plants are also for sale.

At the back of the store is the sales counter and a long window like what you’d see in a restaurant kitchen. This is where the orders are processed and set out for customers to pick up. All product is kept vaulted in back.

On one side of the retail floor is the store’s bud bars: four custom display tables where customers can see and smell various cannabis strains. They are kept inside secure plastic cubes and separated by price point. The cannabis flower — the pulpy green stuff, commonly referred to as bud — is a major segment of the market and makes up a large portion of The Artist Tree’s sales, Fontein says.

“And the people who are into it want to try new things every time they come in,” she says.

The other half of the store is dedicated to the bulk of its other product — as many as 800 items at any given time including vape cartridges, concentrates and pre-rolls (that’s joints for the old school smokers).

There is also a growing market for cannabis you can eat and drink, Fontein says, and The Artist Tree carries edible gummies, mints and popcorn, but also cannabis-infused coffee pods and cocktails, even bath bombs.

And everything is properly dosed, for those worried about accidentally overdoing things, Fontein says.

“There are a lot of consumers who are scared of that,” she says.

On Thursday, the staff was busy putting finishing touches on the store; hanging the art and making sure that all of its product was properly logged into the state’s tracking system. The soft opening starts Monday, while the staff of 25 or so finalizes its training.

An official grand opening will be held July 23 with food and music and many of the store’s cannabis brands will be on site.

“I think people are ready,” Fontein says.

“Clearly people in Fresno want to have easy access to cannabis.”

©2022 The Fresno Bee. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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