MARATHON, Ont. — Just how many licensed pot shops can one small Northwestern Ontario town support, and on the same street yet?
Marathon is about to find out.
In about a month’s time, a second cannabis retail outlet is to open its doors overlooking the town’s picturesque harbour.
J. Supply Co franchise operator Terry Gallant said he chose a vacant former TD bank building for his new Marathon store because it was available, and that in his view a little friendly competition doesn’t hurt anyone.
“I’m not big on monopolies,” Gallant, a long-time Thunder Bay-based businessman, said Thursday. “Having choice is great for the customer, and it’s good for us to be located close to our competition.”
Last fall, a High Society cannabis franchise opened on the other side of Marathon’s Stevens Avenue inside a building that has been at different times a gift shop, pizza joint and tattoo parlour.
Sam Cotton, co-owner of the High Society outlet, said there’s probably enough business in town and surrounding areas to support two outlets; there aren’t many options for cannabis users to buy licensed products between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, Cotton said.
“The gaps (in legitimate retail options) are still very wide,” said Cotton, who is also based in Thunder Bay.
Both operators say they’re eager to cut into the cannabis black market, appealing to customers with products that are safely manufactured and stored.
Marathon Mayor Rick Dumas said it remains to be seen if a municipality of about 3,000 people can support two cannabis outlets.
In any event, there is no limit on how many pot shops can legally locate within a single municipality, as long as they are at least 150 metres from a school, according to the Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission, which licenses the shops.
“A cannabis store can be located anywhere that other retail operations are permitted,” a commission spokesman said. “There is nothing in legislation that requires distance from another store.”
The two cannabis outlets in Marathon count a Catholic church and a municipal recreation hall among their neighbours.
Marathon was among several Northwestern Ontario municipalities that “opted in” before January 2019, when the commission gave cities and towns the chance to keep pot shops out of their communities. Once they’ve opted in, they can’t opt out.
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Marathon is in an economic boom cycle, the downside of which has been a crimp on housing space as well as the ability to find workers.
Locals have been buzzing about the prospect of a new palladium and copper mine a short drive from town which, if approved, is slated to create about 400 direct jobs.
Last month a new downtown Tim Hortons outlet opened its doors, another reason for Trans-Canada Highway travellers to take a break.
Gallant said it costs over $100,000 to retrofit a building into a cannabis outlet so that it meets requirements for security and product storage.
Both Gallant and Cotton said they plan to make improvements to the facades of their respective buildings once the weather warms up.
Marathon also has a LCBO outlet and a Beer Store within close proximity of each other. But people can’t buy booze at the grocery store, like they can at some Thunder Bay outlets.
There are no plans by the province to allow more grocery stores to sell beer or wine, which is currently capped at 450, the commission spokesman said.