Think cannabis shop meets Dover Street Market meets Colette Paris, and you’ve got Gotham, a concept store that opened in New York City Thursday.
Founder Joanne Wilson always wanted to build a store that combined product, lifestyle and culture.
“I came out of the retail world. I came out of the smartphone world, and so I always had this idea for a store, multiple stores over the years,” she said, explaining COVID-19 store closures reignited her interest.
When a friend called the former investor of consumer brands like Food52, Parachute and Sweet Loren’s to ask about the cannabis space, Wilson began researching the industry, which she equates to what “the tech business was in 1998,” as the cannabis boom is in its early stages of development.
“Within a couple days of that call, I was talking to the lawyers in the space and I thought, ‘you know what, I’m gonna do this.’ And that was that,” she said.
But with the desire for a highly curated, creative space, Wilson was on the hunt for a partner. She deferred to her friend and celeb stylist Tommy Buckett during a routine haircut. He ultimately introduced her to Billy Richards, Gotham’s chief creative officer, formerly of Rose Bar and Boom Boom Room.
While Gotham is built around cannabis, it’s not a dispensary — in fact the team doesn’t even use the word “dispensary.” Instead, the concept store is focused on creating a lifestyle brand.
“With Gotham, the goal is not to just create a store. It’s to create a brand,” Richards said. “The goal is for it to be synonymous with something almost like a Supreme back in the day.”
To do this, the store layout and customer experience are at the forefront. For example, if a customer walks into the store citing an issue with sleeping, the Gotham team might point them to a specific cannabis tincture that promotes restfulness — on the second floor where all of the cannabis products are located. But on the lower level, the customer might browse eye masks and candles or learn about Gotham’s curated rest playlist. Afterward, they can explore the mezzanine level, home to the Gotham gallery, which will host rolling exhibitions.
“I used to go into stores, into Barneys [New York] back in the day, into Jeffrey, you name it and they had a vibe. You’re like, ‘this is a cool place to be.’ Even if I’m not going to buy anything, I’m going to see the movers and shakers and see what’s going on here. And that’s lost nowadays,” said Richards. “So when we started to envision what the store and experience was going to be like, we started to think, ‘how can we bring that back?’”
While this approach lends itself to Gotham’s creative design, which includes a permanent tree installation by artist Molly Lowe, it’s also a smart business model, as cannabis is a highly regulated space making it difficult to be profitable, according to Wilson.
“What we did, which is the smartest thing you can do, is that we have merchandise. We also have a private label line, which is like our omnichannel,” she said, noting the brand will be launching its in-house line of products called Gotham Goods later this year.
As the cannabis industry continues to evolve due to federal and state regulations, education was key for Gotham. Therefore, all employees have attended sessions, which have been recorded for future training, with the New York-based cannabis farmers to learn about the store’s products.
While Gotham is just opening its first store, Wilson is looking to scale. The team plans to have three stores in downtown New York City, the legal maximum one owner can operate, with the second location planned for early fall.
“We want it to be a store for New Yorkers and for people that shop and travelers that know this space, a store that’s ingrained in the spirit and culture of New York,” Richards said.