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New weed store could open as early as April, says Fire & Flower exec

Fire & Flower COO says the company is preparing to enter the Ontario market 'in a big way'

A Guelph pot shop will open as early as April, says an executive with a company that currently operates 47 cannabis retail stores across Canada.

Mike Vioncek, chief operating officer of Fire & Flower spoke to GuelphToday on Thursday by phone from his Edmonton office.

Guelph is a younger community and attractive for the company to hang its shingle for a number of reasons, said Vioncek, including its location near the mall and university and the traffic along Stone Road.

“With that demographic in the market and the location, we felt it would be strong,” said Vioncek.

The future Guelph location of Fire & Flower at 304 Stone Rd. W. is expected to open as early as April, said Vioncek, depending on when the company can obtain licensing from the Ontario government.

The site was attractive to the company, in part, because it had already been leased by the Ontario government to be among the first Ontario Cannabis Store location under the previous Liberal government’s model for the stores, which would have operated similarly to how the LCBO sells alcohol.

“When we found out the OCS was looking at this site, we thought we would jump on it because the OCS did a lot of legwork to determine whether or not that site would be cannabis-friendly,” said Vioncek. “They wouldn’t put a site up unless they felt it would be a strong location.”

When the Ontario PC government took power and changed the retail cannabis landscape in the province by moving to a private model, Vioncek said he initially danced for joy, but was surprised when a lottery and limited licenses was first announced.

Fire & Flower did not win any licenses during the initial process, but Vioncek said its two locations in Ontario — one in Ottawa and the other in Kingston — were made possible through a partnership with each of the lottery winners. 

He is looking forward to a new phase of the program that begins March 2, which should allow the company to enter the Ontario market in a big way. Vioncek said Fire & Flower has up to 20 Ontario locations earmarked for new stores.

“Ontario is the biggest market in Canada, it’s very exciting the Ontario government is fully prepared,” said Vioncek. “We will be prepared on March 2 to apply for licensing.”

Shortages of legal cannabis products that made headlines when the federal government first allowed it to be sold have mostly been addressed for flower and oil, said Vioncek, but now that edibles have begun to hit the market there is a shortage of those products.

Every week Vioncek said more and more supply is being made available, which is also beginning to help with the sticker shock some customers have had with legal weed.

“Pricing is definitely beginning to relax. In the initial shortage period, the prices were quite high — which made it difficult to compete with the black market,” he said.

Vioncek said the company took over the lease on the Stone Road site ‘a number’ of months ago in preparation for the new rules to go into effect. If all goes according to plan, the Guelph store could open in April.

The former Dulux Paints store is quite a large location, said Vioncek, and the company is exploring the possibility of having an office for a regional manager built in to it.

“We will start build out as soon as we have all of the required paperwork in to the city,” he said.