As many pot shops in Sarnia now as beer and liquor stores

Manager Michelle Rea, left, and supervisor Dorothy Conely of Bluewater Joint, say business has been steady as cannabis shops continue to pop up across Sarnia. Tara Jeffrey

Tara Jeffrey

Pot shopping in Sarnia these days offers no shortage of options, from the Cannabisery to Your Highness to Chill Cannabis.

“They’re everywhere,” said Michelle Rea, who just 10 months ago helped open Sarnia’s first legal recreational cannabis store — Bluewater Joint.

“After that, they just started popping up everywhere. They’re like Tim Hortons now.”

Indeed, Sarnia has 11 cannabis retailers listed as ‘Authorized to Open’ by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

The public notice period has ended for another four city locations and one is listed as ‘in progress.’

As a result, Sarnia now has as many legal cannabis shops as LCBO and Beer Stores combined, and roughly as many pot shops as Tim Hortons outlets.

Another half a dozen are authorized to open in Lambton County.

In fact, with more than 1,000 authorized retailers now operating the average Ontarian is only about 5 kilometres away from the nearest store, says the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), a provincial Crown corporation and only online retailer of legal recreational pot in Ontario.

“Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, cannabis sales grew with the number of brick-and-mortar stores across the province,” it noted in a recent report. “On average this quarter, each store sold 4,600 grams of product with sales of $342,000.”

But the surging expansion has even the agency’s interim president and CEO concerned about market over-saturation.

“Unfortunately, this rapid growth will likely result in some retailers being faced with increased competition and a crowded marketplace, which could result in some closures and market right-sizing,” David Lobo noted.

“Other retail stores may choose to participate in mergers and acquisitions to increase their size and scale, and presumably drive down their operating costs.

“However, at the core, all retailers will be challenged to further drive a relentless focus on targeted consumer segments and differentiating themselves from others.”

At Bluewater Joint, Rae said being first out of the gate has been an advantage.

“Word of mouth is big in Sarnia,” she said of the family-run location, which sells everything from dried flower and pre-rolled joints to cannabis-infused chocolates and gummies.

Rea said that while things have slowed a little, she’s not concerned about losing business as more retail shops pop up. The store at 940 Murphy Rd. has a flow of loyal customers as well as new clientele coming in for the first time, she said.

“A lot of the older ladies, now that they’re getting together again (for social outings) … they want to try something but don’t want to smoke,” said Rea, noting popular edibles include fruit-flavoured soft chews that also help with sleep.

Then there’s the regulars — college students, plant workers and seniors — who know the staff by name and are thrilled to be back in-store shopping again, she said.

“We’re happy to be a part of this community. And we’re still going strong.”