Future uncertain for Old Town Market as cannabis company eyes location

After owning and operating Old Town Market in Orcutt for 16 years, Mark Steller received a text message from his landlord in late April informing him that the building where the store is located had been sold. 

click to enlarge Future uncertain for Old Town Market as cannabis company eyes location
OLD TOWN CHANGES : A cannabis company has purchased the building where Old Town Market is located with the intention of applying for a cannabis retail permit with the county.

Steller broke the news in a post on the market’s Facebook page that said the store’s closure is a loss for the whole community. The market has operated as a small grocery store under different names since 1948.

“Needless to say, we are heartbroken about this,” the post states. “Old Town Market is our second home, and we are so, so sad to leave behind 16 years of hard work, good memories, and amazing relationships with our customers and community.”

Soon after Steller’s announcement, some Orcutt residents learned that the new owner of the building plans to apply for a cannabis retail permit in the location. To address these rumors, on May 7, Natural Healing Center acknowledged that it had purchased the building in a process that began 10 months ago.

Natural Healing Center is the retail side of Helios Dayspring’s company, which includes seven cannabis cultivation sites in Tepusquet Canyon as well as some in San Luis Obispo County. In addition to a location in Grover Beach, the company has secured retail permits to open stores in San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, as well as two in the Central Valley.

Nick Andre, the Natural Healing Center’s chief operating officer, said the company identified the Orcutt property where the market is located as the best fit for its plans, as it’s one of the few locations in Old Town that meets the county’s zoning requirements for cannabis retail permits. Also, the building has one of the largest parking lots in Old Town Orcutt, which is needed to accommodate the 800 to 1,000 people who will visit the store daily, Andre said. 

The company looks to open stores in downtown locations that’ll help drive traffic to other nearby businesses. 

“We think it’s amazing for a downtown to have an influx of 800 people a day that weren’t there before,” Andre said. “That’s what a downtown is built for is to … be a center of commerce.”

Andre said the company expected a strong reaction to this proposal but believes a lot of it is fueled by a negative preconceived notion of what cannabis retail stores are like. 

He said the shop wouldn’t be a dark, dingy place with criminals outside getting high. Instead, he describes it as a professional setting with an average customer age of 55 years old that offers cannabis to smoke, plus topicals, tinctures, and other products people use for medicinal purposes.

After the company officially purchased the building in late April, Andre said Dayspring met with Steller to try to work out an agreement that would assist Steller with the relocation of the market. After they weren’t able to work out an agreement, the company sent Steller a 90-day eviction notice.

Steller told the Sun that it’s true he met with Dayspring, but that the offer to help wasn’t enough to cover all of the costs associated with moving to a new location. Given how difficult it is to open a business in Santa Barbara County, Steller said the process could take up to a year, which would be a long time without generating revenue.

“I just don’t have the capital to pause and do that,” Steller said.

However, he said he’s leaving his options open and is sure that he’ll speak to Dayspring again. If the market closes, he said the community will lose a grocery store, a cultural center where civic groups would gather, and the main hub of Old Town Orcutt.

Andre said he hopes the two sides can come to some sort of agreement that results in the market remaining open. In the meantime, he said, Natural Healing Center plans to educate the community on the benefits the store would provide, such as tax revenue. And once the county begins accepting applications, the company will begin that process.

The county’s existing ordinance allows for one dispensary within each of the county’s six community plan areas, like Orcutt and Los Alamos. The process to determine which companies are awarded these lucrative permits is supposed to heavily weigh the company’s background and its potential fit within a community.

Andre said that at the moment, the company is only pursuing a retail permit at the market’s location and hasn’t purchased any other properties in the county with the intention of applying for a permit.

In a Facebook post, 4th District Supervisor-elect Bob Nelson—who will replace the district’s existing supervisor, Peter Adam, when his term ends early next year—said he is disappointed the market is closing but that neither he nor Adam can comment on the proposed plan prior to its reaching the Board of Supervisors. However, he said the community will have a chance to weigh in on any cannabis retail proposal in Orcutt. 

“The permitting process is extensive, and before any permit is approved for retail cannabis, the members of the Orcutt community will have ample opportunity to make sure their voices are heard on this matter,” Nelson said.

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