Ryan Hudson, co-founder and chief executive officer of The Apothecarium, envisioned a better dispensary experience. “Years ago, I was standing in line at a dispensary, waiting behind a woman my grandmother’s age,” he said. “Like me, she was there for a serious medical issue. But the people working there were unable to provide her the information she needed. That was my ‘lightbulb moment’—when I decided to create a dispensary where she could find quality cannabis in a welcoming, non-judgmental environment and also get the information and support she needed to use it safely and effectively.
“Everything we do at The Apothecarium—from the products we select to the training our staff receives to the way we design our dispensaries—is intended to give her the experience she deserves,” he added. “I know if we are meeting her needs, then we are probably meeting the needs of everyone who comes through our doors.”
Named one of the “Best-Designed Marijuana Shops Across America” by Architectural Digest in 2017, The Apothecarium in San Francisco’s Castro district is more than just a pretty face. The dispensary, one of four in The Apothecarium family, also is home to an art gallery, an educational classroom with weekly events, 500 SKUs encompassing a full range of cannabis products from flower and concentrates to vape pens and edibles, and a well-educated staff of more than fifty employees.
The grand tour
Situated on Market Street near its intersection with Dolores Street, The Apothecarium is smack-dab in the heart of California’s cannabis legalization epicenter. “Through our front windows you can see the building that housed one of Dennis Peron’s early dispensaries,” said Chief Marketing Officer Eliot Dobris. “[That’s] where he and other activists wrote Proposition 215, which California voters passed in 1996, legalizing medical marijuana.”
Stepping through the dispensary’s doors, a customers’ first encounter is with staff at the reception desk. The sleek black-and-white counter area sits across from a chic, elegant lobby where guests are able to browse the product menu and wait in comfort for their cannabis consultant. “After check-in, [customers] can wait on stylish upholstered furniture that mixes a blend of neo-Victorian and modern details, or they can peruse accessories and branded merchandise in our award-winning boutique,” said Dobris.
Entering the main floor of the 5,200-square-foot shop, the white-tiled walkway is emblazoned with a large inlaid tile seal proclaiming the store’s date of establishment in 2011, when it was housed in a different location on Market Street. The current location has been home to the shop since 2016 and was designed under the direction of architect Vincent Gonzaga and interior design firm Urban Chalet.
The open space concept behind the dispensary design makes the shop easy to navigate. Moving from the entryway to the wood-paneled floor of the showroom, off to the left is Mark’s Corner, a curated art gallery with bimonthly rotating exhibits. “Mark’s Corner is named after Mark Estes, an artist, cannabis enthusiast, and AIDS patient who died in the 1990s,” said Dobris. “The space serves as a reminder to our staff and guests that the fight for legal marijuana began in our neighborhood and arose directly from the HIV/AIDS crisis.” The gallery predominantly exhibits local artists and hosts opening events at each new installation, much like a museum gallery. Cannabis consultant and “Minister of Culture” Danyol Leon curates the collections. Continuing through the dispensary, a well-lit checkout area in soothing shades of blue and brown with a white, marble-topped, L-shaped counter reminiscent of a hotel check-in desk lines the back of the shop, and a classroom off to the right completes the arc.
An effort to educate
Aligning with the company’s mission to provide “quality cannabis in a welcoming environment with empathy, education, and ongoing personal support,” The Apothecarium sees customer education as a matter of paramount importance.
“We focus on education and one-on-one consultations with highly trained staff,” Dobris said. “A typical dispensary displays hundreds of products under glass counters, which can be overwhelming to newcomers. We prefer to focus on one-on-one interactions with our highly trained staff who can help people find the right products for their needs and ensure they leave understanding how to use [those products.]”
Education is in everything the dispensary does, including its restaurant-style printed menus on which the flower selection is accompanied not only by tasting notes and a description of each cultivar’s physical characteristics but also THC and CBD percentages, and a bar graph representing select therapeutic effects—sedative, anxiety relief, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and mood elevation.
In addition, the dispensary offers a range of classes and events such as in-store vendor presentations and support groups for members. Educational classes—hosted weekly on Thursdays—are a popular draw for the shop. Attendees often find them to be “standing room only.” Recent topics included Cannabis and Cancer 101; Cannabis Without the High: CBD and THCA for Cancer, Mood, and Pain; and Terpenes: Cannabis Aromas & Effects.
At your service
Company values—particularly “Giving Back” and “Diversity & Individuality”—play a big role in daily operations. “At The Apothecarium, we take our commitment to community seriously,” said Dobris. “Since our founding in 2011, we have donated more than $400,000 in cash to community groups and nonprofits—plus more than $300,000 worth of in-kind donations.” Offering transparency, the company provides a list of beneficiaries on its website.
With its location in the Castro, a pledge of diversity is crucial to the dispensary. “We operate in a neighborhood that is famous for its LGBTQ+ residents. Many of our staff are LGBTQ+ and so are many of our guests,” Dobris said. “We are a company that prizes inclusion and diversity.” That includes diverse demographics, as well. “We focus on seniors, working professionals, and folks with serious medical conditions,” he said. “That said, we welcome all types of guests, and we see people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities.”
Of relevance to its senior and medical clientele, The Apothecarium is easily accessible via several forms of public transportation, with nearby stops of the Muni Metro, bus, BART, and the city’s historic streetcar line—a great benefit to customers who otherwise would be unable to make the journey.
“When you come inside The Apothecarium, you see a lot of gray hair,” Dobris said. “We take pride in providing a welcoming environment to people who might not feel comfortable in other dispensaries.”
The Apothecarium | 2029 Market Street | San Francisco, California 94114 | Apothecarium.com/san-francisco