Elev8 ready to get off the ground

  • Employees of Elev8, Athol's first operating recreational cannabis retailer, put up the sign at 243 Main St., in advance of opening. September 25, 2020. Contributed photo

  • Seun Adedeji, owner of Elev8 marijuana retailer, stands at the counter of his soon-to-be-open store at 243 Main St. in Athol. Sept. 25, 2020. Contributed photo

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 10/1/2020 12:17:25 PM
Modified: 10/1/2020 12:17:16 PM

ATHOL — Like a thoroughbred race horse just waiting in its box at the starting gate, Seun Adedeji is champing at the bit, waiting for the door to swing open and hoping he’s running on a fast track to success as Athol’s first operating recreational cannabis retailer.

Adedeji is the owner of Elev8, which will be operating at 243 Main St., the site of a long-closed gas station. If all goes well, the establishment should be opening its doors before the end of October.

Adedji’s enthusiasm was palpable as he gave the Athol Daily News a tour of the new facility.

After passing security, which includes a check of a driver’s license or state-issued ID, customers will be escorted into the product room, where they will be greeted by employees working behind a large counter.

“So, when they come in, there are going to be products all back here,” said Adedeji, gesturing with a sweeping motion to the wall behind the counter. “So, you just pick — when you look at the menu — do you want the pre-rolled, do you want a bong, do you want some flowers, some edibles? They’re all going to be lined up.

“Right now, we have three people who will be serving customers; we’re not sure how busy it’s going to be. We expect it to be busy, but we’d rather under-promise and over-deliver. As we get busy, we’re going to add more people at the counter.”

In addition to the “regular counter,” Adedeji is also setting up a “gold station.”

“The gold station is for expedited customers, customers who are loyal to Elev8 Cannabis. They get the gold treatment where they don’t have to wait in line; they can cut the line and get treated like gold,” he said with a wide smile.

The Gold Station is for those customers who have visited “X amount of times and spent X amount of dollars,” he explained. Store managers, he said, are working on just how much a customer will have to spend to qualify for the benefit.

As the tour continued through the vault room, where inventory awaiting a move to the front counter is held, and the managers’ office, there is no hint the building once operated as a service station. The interior is spotless and there isn’t even the hint of the scent of gasoline. The place is pristine.

The road from getting permission from the Selectboard to set up shop in Athol to finally opening the doors of Elev8 has amounted to nearly three years, which includes obtaining all the necessary local permits, and working his way through the approval process of the state Cannabis Control Commission.

“I know some people who have been at this for three years, four years,” said Adedeji, “so, two years and 10 months and we’re finally here.”

Finding a location is just one hurdle cannabis retailers must overcome.

“You have to keep in mind in the cannabis business that it’s technically illegal,” he said. “You can’t just reach out and pick any building; the building cannot be federally backed in the sense that it cannot have a loan with the federal government. If it is, the loan would ‘balloon,’ so they would have to pay off the balance of the loan first.”

In addition to Athol, Elev8 has secured locations in Orange and Williamstown. Adedeji said all three should be selling cannabis products by the end of the calendar year. In none of the three locations, he said, has the company experienced much push-back from opponents of marijuana.

“It’s been a fairly smooth process,” said Adedeji. “People trust us. They see we’re passionate about this industry, and they’re rooting for us.

“We’re really super excited to be a part of a growing community. We see Athol as doing a lot of amazing things. They have Market Basket, Starbucks, Wendy’s and one of the largest cultivation operations in the state of Massachusetts. I think as time goes on, Athol is really going to be booming.”

Adedeji has been at this for a while, despite his young age, having opened his first retail cannabis location in Eugene, Oregon at the age of 23.

A young Black man, he said, “When I started, I wanted to encourage generational wealth, not just for myself but for other people who look like me. I saw the cannabis industry as an emerging market and it as doing really well. I felt it was a great opportunity.”

Age 27 now, Adedeji is proud of what he has accomplished.

“We’re doing really good. We’ve become the second-largest African American-owned brand in the United States. And I’m the youngest African American man to open up a cannabis business in the United States. So, we’re doing pretty good things, and I’m excited about it.”

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