Apothecarium Berkeley Opens Despite Pandemic

With video consultations and local artwork, the newest branch of the Bay Area pot shop chain is celebrating its Telegraph Avenue debut.

A stone’s throw from the UC Berkeley campus, the latest outpost for the Apothecarium is firmly rooted in the heart of East Bay cannabis culture.

Located at 2312 Telegraph Avenue, the store marks the fourth Bay Area dispensary from the Apothecarium crew. Aesthetically, the space is reflective of the upscale, minimalist style on display at the chain’s Marina, Castro, and SoMA locations. If things perhaps look a tad too sparse, well Apothecarium’s Marketing Director, Sara Moser Feinberg, has a plan for that.

Gesturing to empty walls during a socially-distanced interview at the newly opened space — Apothecarium Berkeley’s official opening was July 31 — Feinberg explains that she hopes to partner with an East Bay artist to give the store’s décor a splash of local color.

“If you come back in a few weeks, we’ll hopefully have some local artwork installed,” she said, explaining that the dispensary is always interested in supporting locals, and pointing to a gallery at Apothecarium’s location in the Castro.

That gallery does not currently have any art on display on account of COVID-19. Somewhat amazingly, however, Feinberg says that the onset of a pandemic did not delay Apothecarium’s timeline for opening a Berkeley store.

“We are a company that knows we will be opening more dispensaries,” she explained. “We are now on the East Coast. We have three dispensaries in Pennsylvania and one soon-to-open in New Jersey. No, there was never a notion that we would change our plans. We were always full-steam ahead. Our next dispensary will probably open in October and that’s in Capitola (near Santa Cruz).”

The Apothecarium Berkeley

While enthusiasm and determination can pull a lot of weight when it comes to willing a project into being, opening a dispensary during a pandemic required some innovative solutions, as well. In addition to rounding up a sufficient amount of hand-sanitizer and limiting store capacity, the chief concern, said Apothecarium Berkeley store manager Luis Ruvalcaba, was ensuring that the lines of communication between customers and staff weren’t severed by health-related restrictions.

In response, the store has begun using the online consulting platform Zendesk, which allows Apothecarium consultants to video chat with customers who may not feel safe coming into the store just yet.

“We want to continue to educate and to engage and this has been a good way to reach out to customers,” Ruvalcaba explained. “Those that already know us now have a way they can come to us for support and customers who don’t know us but hear about this can quickly learn about what we offer as well as ask any questions they have about cannabis too.”

A similar line of thought was employed in deciding to transfer the educational programs offered at Apothecarium’s Castro store to a virtual setting.

Taught bi-weekly by Sara Payan, Apothecarium’s Public Education Officer (and a nationally-known advocate and cannabis educator), the classes have reportedly enjoyed robust attendance figures since making the switch to the digital sphere. In fact, the virtual sessions of Payan’s classes have gone so well that Feinberg isn’t sure they’ll ever return to their former setting.

“When we relaunched Sara’s classes,” she said, “the attendance was unbelievable. It’s because people have easier access. Now they just have to get to a computer. I thought that was just such a pleasant surprise. We’ll probably never offer them in-person again if we can do it digitally.”

And as far as what it means to the Apothecarium to have a spot on Telegraph Avenue, long recognized as a literal and symbolic cornerstone of cannabis culture? In a word: opportunity.

For one, the brand’s delivery service now has an expanded radius. In addition to coverage for all of San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley (minus federal land), Apothecarium is now delivering to customers in parts of Marin County as well as El Cerrito, Alameda, Albany, and Orinda.

“We’re definitely starting to expand our footprint,” Feinberg confirmed, “and we have a plan to do so even further.”

For now, however, Feinberg and Ruvalcaba seem plenty satisfied with a warm welcome from the local community.

Following a grand opening weekend that was largely unadvertised (“We certainly did not want crowds,” explained Feinberg), a steady trickle of faces both fresh and familiar have continued to make their way in. Though some are hearing of Apothecarium for the first time, a not insignificant percentage of the store’s traffic has also come from longtime East Bay customers who had previously relied on delivery or driven into San Francisco to shop.

According to Ruvalcaba, demographics for the customers he’s seen so far reflect the diverse array of people who regularly shop at Apothecarium’s San Francisco locations.

“We’ve seen older folks, younger folks, people at the middle of the road,” Ruvalcaba said. “I think we’ve seen people from all walks of life since we’ve opened. It’s been great. It’s refreshing.”

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