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Sensi Magazine

Sweet Caroline

Apr 18, 2019 05:21PM ● By Jameson Viens
In addition to the good work from organizations like Elevate New England, Women Grow Boston, Mass Medical Marijuana Initiative, NORML, Moms for Pot, and other cannabis businesses and initiatives, there have been commendable efforts in recent years towards leveling and diversifying the playing field of cannabis business owners in the Mass Grass scene.

But a quick look around the emerging industry by even an untrained or desensitized eye makes it clear that the cultural tapestry of the weed biz has a way to go. Caroline Frankel, owner of recently opened Caroline’s Cannabis in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, is here to change that.

In the years that have passed since the state legalized adult-use cannabis consumption, Frankel is the state’s first 100 percent independently owned and operated recreational retail location. Serving over a thousand customers over the course of three days during their opening celebration, Frankel and her husband Steven came to represent the coming wave of local small businesses standing in defiance against the tide of Big Weed entering the state’s legal landscape. Thus, the opening of Frankel’s shop was a notable event, one which was willed into existence through hard work and a lot of local uplift from the community and a legion of supporters.

Frankel’s story began half a decade ago when she created cannabis-inspired wood signs (think Pinterest meets marijuana) to sell at trade shows and the annual Boston Freedom Rally. The practice gave her a platform to “spread the kind word of cannabis.” When western states came online recreationally, Frankel spent hours studying out of state applications before Massachusetts had any forms to file as she formed her vision.

Between the homework, attending weekly town hall meetings to press the issue of opening a dispensary in Uxbridge, and Caroline and her husband holding mock community hearings in their basement in front of friends, the experience was educational in the way that learning how to run for office while already on the campaign trail is educational.

“You never know what to expect,” says Frankel. “You have to be prepared to answer some pretty tough questions when you’re going up against people in the community, you have to be able to handle them. It’s two steps forward, ten steps back, no matter what you do, so you have to be able to deal with it in a rational way.”

As the first person to approach Uxbridge about opening a shop, Frankel often found herself having to educate town legislators on everything from cannabis basics to discussing newly minted rules of the legal game and how towns capitalizing on cannabis have an opportunity to be a welcome addition to an area in need of economic stimulation.

“These communities need money. In these old mill towns, there’s not a lot of business, and Uxbridge needs the income desperately, so the town just gets it, and that’s been a huge support,” Frankel says of dealing with the procedural side of the pot pony show in the Commonwealth.

Keeping things local remains a priority for Frankel. Her shop exclusively sells smoking accessories from nearby artists (sourced from Witch Dr. Glass studio in Salem), and with fingers crossed, she hopes dispensaries will source flower and concentrates from local cultivators.

“You should be able to come here and go, ‘Oh, this is from Northampton, this is from Fitchburg,’ and really feel like you’re walking into a store that has some product diversity to it,” says Frankel. “I think it would be so cool to have it grown and sold right here in Uxbridge, to create a farm-to-table vibe and know that it’s all made in Massachusetts.” Despite Frankel’s infectious optimism and excitement, her journey to market hasn’t been easy. She’s made it on plenty of sweat equity and more than a little raw stick to it ness. Early on, Boston-based law firms quoted her in excess of $100,000 to help her navigate the application process and municipal red tape. She eventually worked with an attorney in her budget and maintains that keeping things simple and scalable has been a big asset to the launch.

“The secret to my success is that I picked a small store,” she says. “I picked a project that I could afford and was to scale, rather than renting out a 7,000-square-foot space.”

Frankel’s shop opening was also a messaging win for the “let’s let the locals in first” tribes, as the arrival of multi million dollar cannabis giants from out of state has been an obstacle for local entrepreneurs looking to get their share of the market. The first in an ongoing Boston Globe investigation series on the new cannabis industry in the state ran in March and highlighted the widening gap between corporately owned cannabis firms and mom-and-pop shops.

“As a small business owner, it’s scary that this is happening so quickly,” Frankel says of the revelations and the sense that she’s in a David-versus-Goliath situation but in the end, when you back up your fight with hard work and the support of a passionate community, David has some power in the proverbial slingshot. Frankel says that’s a big part of how Caroline’s finally got off the ground.

“I stood strong for what I believed in, and people really supported me in my efforts.”