The current global health crisis has touched everyone in one way or another. In the best cases, it has brought communities together, and challenged us to make positive changes to the way we go about our lives. Quinn Sharpe—owner of Satori, downtown Bellingham’s only cannabis retailer—has been tackling those challenges.

“We were one of the essential businesses that could stay open, and for good reason,” Sharpe says. “We have thousands of patients that rely on cannabis for relief.”

A greeter works the front door to remind customers to maintain social distance and eliminate crowding inside. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

Since opening in 2016, Satori has always been driven by the medical uses of cannabis. “I’ve seen it help so many patients,” Sharpe says. “We have eight medical consultants on staff, and are always making sure they’re up to date with their continued education.”

A shop cannot remain in business without its staff, so Satori made sure they supported the workers from the moment this all started. “When it was first declared a pandemic and they mandated a Stay Home order, the first thing we did was give all of the staff emergency paid time off, just to let them know that if they feel any symptoms they could stay home and be safe,” says Sharpe. They even paid employees time-and-a-half for the first couple of weeks. “That was not sustainable, but we wanted them to know their work is important, and how much we appreciated them showing up and taking that risk.”

Satori’s receptionist checks customers’ IDs and acts as the first point of contact and information at the store. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

Staying on top of risk reduction has happened every day since then, as well. “Of course we have all of our staff wearing plastic gloves and face masks,” Sharpe says. Initially, it was difficult to get face masks, so he relied on his mother-in-law, Nancy Murphy, who produced about 150 cloth face masks for the shop. “We make sure all employees have a few of them so they can change them out during the day.”

More recently, Satori reached out to Bellingham’s Louis’ Glass, and they constructed large 4 x 8-foot sheets of Plexiglas to go around the store with a roughly eight-inch gap for the exchange of money and products. “That really made a difference for staff right away,” says Sharpe.

Customers will notice some changes designed to keep them safer while they’re in the store. “You’ll see hand sanitizer at every cash register, and at reception as well. As of last week, we added debit card machines, to limit the amount of cash that’s being handled,” Sharpe says. “We’re blessed with a large space, so we can practice social distancing the best we can. Right away—and it continues to this day—we’ve only allowed one customer in the store per sales associate.”

The number of associates on hand at any given time has also changed in the last few months. “We’ve added positions that we never had before, to help maintain safety and cleanliness at the store,” says Sharpe. A greeter was added to help maintain social distancing outside of the store, make sure inside doesn’t get crowded, and to limit contact with surfaces by opening the door for customers.

The new website, and its menu of products, has become a great way for customers to browse and buy, while minimizing the amount of time they spend in the store. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

“We also have what we call our clean team,” Sharpe says. “Basically, we always have a cleaner on staff that’s wiping down all high-traffic areas, like counter tops and ATMs. And we’re asking customers not to touch any product until after it’s purchased.”

One part of Satori’s infrastructure has seen a great response from customers that don’t want to spend longer than necessary shopping—they redesigned their website about six month ago and brought in a new menu; they weren’t anticipating a pandemic, but were looking to the continued growth of online ordering.

“It decreases the amount of time you’re in the store, and your risk to exposure. We have a great menu, and a great marketing team that makes sure the menus are up to date and the descriptions are good, to give you that in-store experience, but online,” Sharpe says. The shops online sales have increased tenfold because of the pandemic, and they added another employee to help fulfill online orders. “Now we do about 100 online orders each day, and we’ve done up to 300.”

Signs point out evolved ways of doing business, from the new debit card machines to reminders to keep surfaces clean. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

On a more personal level, management at Satori has noticed a little silver lining as a result of all the hard work. “Normally this time of year we’ll have flu running through the store. One person gets it, and the next thing you know the whole store has some sort of symptoms, or a cold,” Sharpe says. “This winter? Nothing. Everyone’s been really safe, and no one’s been getting sick. I think people’s fears are kind of calming down a bit because of the measures that we’ve taken.”

While the rest of Whatcom County looks forward to Phase 2 of the Safe Start plan, when some restrictions on businesses can relax, Satori doesn’t plan on changing their model. “I see us maintaining all of these changes well into the future,” says Sharpe. “But we’ll always go beyond what the recommendations are. We want to keep our customers and our community safe while we provide cannabis and medical cannabis for our patrons.”

Learn more by watching a recent video interview with Quinn Sharpe.


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