Port Moody pub owner expands into pot sales in historic downtown

Local pub proprietor beats out proposals with corporate backing

A well-known Port Moody pub proprietor is expanding into the cannabis business.

And Rylie Ableman couldn’t be more surprised.

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The owner of the St. James Well in NewPort Village said he was shocked when city councillors approved zoning bylaw amendments on Tuesday that will allow him to open his Happy Hippie cannabis retail shop at 2343 Clarke St. once the “fit and proper” vetting of his bid’s financial and personal backgrounds is completed by the provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch.

When it does open, Happy Hippie will be Port Moody’s third legal cannabis retailer, two less than council had originally said it would look to approve in the first year since it assented to allowing such businesses to operate in the city. The others are Kiaro, which opened in March on St. Johns Street, and Burb, which plans to open a shop in Suter Brook Village.

Ableman said from the get-go, his proposal for an independent shop in Port Moody’s historic downtown faced long odds against competing bids with high-profile corporate backing, slick marketing and bold promises to support the community.

In fact, one such proposal, by Cannoe, that includes backing from the founders of Roots and Aldo Group, was rejected by council on Tuesday. Several councillors said they feared the company’s chosen location for its shop on St. Johns Street would create a kind of “cannabis row” along the busy thoroughfare that could transform Port Moody into “Pot Moody.”

Instead, they favoured spreading the retail locations out into different neighbourhoods and the “funky” vibe Ableman said he’ll try to create with his shop.

“We do like our individual little shops,” said Coun. Steve Milani. “I think our demographic supports these kinds of shops.”

Ableman, who’s held a lease on the Clarke Street location for three years, said he doesn’t want his shop “to be in everybody’s face.” He hopes its proximity to nearby restaurants and other independent retailers will help generate more foot traffic that benefits everybody.

“People drive past that area so much, but they rarely stop,” he said.

Coun. Amy Lubik recognized the potential.

“As we look to revitalize Clarke Street, I think they can do something cool with that storefront,” she said of Ableman’s proposal.

Other councillors pointed to Ableman’s roots in the community and longstanding support of organizations like Port Moody Rotary, Share, and the city’s fire department.

“The big companies had great plans, but it really shut out the whole Port Moody business aspect,” Ableman said.

Now that he’s cleared the political and most of the bureaucratic hurdles, Abelman said the real work on getting his new venture up and running can begin in earnest.

That includes bringing in his design team that will transform their conceptual ideas into reality, finalize his branding and start pulling together staff, including a manager with expertise in the cannabis business.

“I’m very ready to be part of the community down there,” Abelman said.

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