Myles Kahn says he has big plans for his new recreational marijuana store, the city’s third, officially opening this week.
He should, he’s been thinking about it for nearly two years after winning the lottery for a Liquor and Cannabis Board recreational license in 2014 and then battling in court and out since to find a suitable location.
But the new store, Buddy’s, located somewhat appropriately at 420 Sunset Blvd., finally opened its doors last week and will host a grand opening celebration Saturday, complete with food and live music.
“It’s been a long, strange trip,” Kahn said recently, paraphrasing a Grateful Dead lyric. “But we’re there and I prefer to look forward to being part of the Renton Community.”
Named for Kahn’s grandfather, musician Buddy Harlow who routinely rocked houses in New York City’s Latin Quarter back in the day, Kahn’s said he hopes to combine music and marijuana cultures in a way that he hopes will lead to other Buddy’s outlets all across the state and country.
“My whole family is musicians and I was the black sheep and went to law school,” Kahn said with a smile.
But Kahn’s journey to opening is not just a tale about battling groups of entrepreneurs, but a commentary on the “Green Rush” and the difficulty some entrepreneurs are having in finding suitable – and/or legal – locations for their shops.
For Kahn, that began when the initial licenses were announced in 2014. With Renton set to get only three licenses, it became essentially a game of luck and Kahn lucked out, getting the third license for the city, with plans to open a shop on east Valley Highway, a block down from the IKEA along state Route 167.
But soon after, the City Council made a policy change, requiring that all recreational marijuana shops not only be in commercial zones, but only in the areas of those zones that would also allow for taverns. With that, Kahn’s location was no longer viable.
He had a license, but no space.
Meanwhile, three other potential licensees had all made arrangements with the property owner and the then-current lessee at 420 Sunset to use that building as their location if they got a license. One of the groups came in fourth.
As he looked for a location, Kahn said he hit “dead ends” everywhere, including zoning problems and landlords unwilling to lease to a marijuana business.
Eventually, Kahn settled on 420 Sunset (which at that time was 430 Sunset, but included the 420 address, a popular code marijuana smokers use to relate to the product), but agreements had already been made for that space.
“It’s an attractive space,” he said.
The site was a stand-alone store in a high traffic area
One group who did not have a license signed a deal with the lessee of the business that was located there, but was failing. The agreement gave the new group the right to the space and the landlord signed off on it.
Soon after, Kahn offered the landlord additional money for the space – as well as a legal license to actually open a shop – and it began a multi-year court battle that actually went against Kahn and his group when the courts found that the sublet agreement approved by the landlord was in fact legal and binding.
When the case ended, the winners still had more than a year on their lease at the site, but no license to sell marijuana. Kahn, on the other hand, got a 60-day notice from Liquor and Cannabis Board informing him that he would need to find a space or be forced to turn his license over.
“I wasn’t going to lose my license,” he said.
Kahn hired a commercial real estate broker but said he could not find an “attractive space” and kept coming back to 420 Sunset.
“Ultimately, I said this is still the best space,” he said. “You can’t just put this business anywhere and think you’ll do well.
“Location, location, location,” he said.
But with no license to legally sell, the other group could not open a store. So Kahn cut a deal with the other group and ended up assuming their lease. He does not go into the details, but said he viewed the deal as a “cost of doing business.”
“A marriage was made eventually,” he said, not giving anything more except that “nobody got left out.”
The agreement gave him legal possession of the building and he started working on his concept for Buddy’s, which he hopes to turn into a larger brand.
The new store features shiny art deco ceilings, images of old New York clubs and Kahn has plans for welcoming food trucks on a regular basis, as well as setting up a stage for live music. At this point in the business, two years in, Kahn said recreational marijuana shops can’t just rely on having a good location and a license anymore, they need a concept. The ambiance and interaction is important.
“It’s not if-you-build-it-they-will-come,” he said. “There’s other places to go.”
Kahn, who said he helped dozens of other shops open their doors in his role as an attorney, will try to get people into his store through the music.
“Cannabis is a culture and music is a part of that,” he said.
The store’s soft opening was last week and its official grand opening is Saturday, complete with bands, something that Kahn thinks his jazz musician grandfather and the store’s namesake would have approved of.
“I think he would have been really cool with this,” he said.