Plenty of hashish retail outlets opened. Now loads are going out industry: Regulator

Thirty-two cannabis retailers have closed in St. Thomas, Windsor, Ottawa, Hamilton and the Toronto region.

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As pot shops continue to open provincewide, dozens of the businesses already have closed, including at least two in Southwestern Ontario, says the province’s marijuana regulator.

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There are 1,457 cannabis retail stores operating in Ontario, with applications for 471 others under review, according to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). As the store tally keeps rising – London has 35 of the outlets and at least a dozen more coming – industry insiders have predicted some of these businesses will shutter.

Thirty-two cannabis retailers have closed in St. Thomas, Windsor, Ottawa, Hamilton and the Toronto region, the AGCO said.

No reasons were given for the closings, and the tally didn’t include proposed stores that didn’t make it through the application process.

In St. Thomas, High Tea at 60 Ross St. closed, while Windsor’s Uptown Hempire at 1326 Ottawa St. has shuttered.

There’s a rigorous process for closing a cannabis retail store that includes notifying the AGCO, commission spokesperson Raymond Kahnert said.

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“There is a process to ensure that the operator has taken the necessary steps to close their store, including dealing with any remaining inventory, which must be sold prior to closing, returning inventory . . . or destroying inventory . . . ,” he said by email.

“As part of the final steps to ensure compliance, the AGCO confirms that all outstanding and final reports have been received and are in order, including the Ontario Cannabis Store confirming there are no active orders for cannabis or deliveries scheduled.”

But despite the closings and predictions of more to come, some cannabis store operators are looking to expand their footprint into the already-saturated market.

Marie and Bob Ross, who run Bob’s Bud Emporium in St. Thomas, are opening a second location in the Elgin Center mall, a first for an independent operator in Ontario, where larger cannabis chains recently have expanded into shopping centres.

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“There’s lots of residential development out there. There’s the bus that stops right there by the mall. There’s the movie theatre, the gym. . . and the mall owners are doing a great job trying to bring the Elgin Center back to life,” Marie Ross said.

The couple’s downtown shop was the first to open in Elgin County and the only store to offer delivery, Ross said.

“Throughout this whole time, we’ve been able to develop a good customer base,” Ross said, adding there are lots of misconceptions about opening a cannabis retail store.

“Yes, it’s a great business to be in, but this is not a get-rich scheme,” she said. “We’re happy with the two stores right now.”

The pace of pot shop openings is beginning to slow in Ontario, where the number of stores increased by 20 per cent between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, down from a 34 per cent increase during the previous three months, according to a recent report from the Ontario Cannabis Store, the government-run marijuana wholesaler and delivery service.

Legal sales continue to chip away at the black market, with 59 per cent of pot purchases made through legitimate channels in the latest quarter, compared with 43 per cent one year earlier, the report said.

dcarruthers@postmedia.com

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