When you visit NUG Wellness, you won’t be greeted by faceless concrete or the ominous presence of a reinforced metal door. Instead, upon arriving at the cannabis company’s new brick and mortar dispensary in San Leandro, the first thing one is likely to notice is the large exterior windows that invite visitors to enjoy a clear view of the reception area within.
For older cannabis users, places like NUG Wellness feel a lifetime apart from the era of covert cannabis, when many medicinal dispensaries — legit or otherwise — valued discretion above all else. In the wake of Proposition 64, a new species of dispensary has subsequently emerged: a generation of shops devised with the benefit of legally hired architects and designers. A far cry from the dim lighting and limited offerings of past pot shops, this new crop of dispensaries are redefining what we’ve come to expect from the experience of purchasing cannabis.
In San Carlos, the recently opened Well by Caliva touts itself in a press release as a “first-of-its-kind wellness experience and concept store, rooted in mindfulness and designed to be a personalized experience for every customer.” To that end, the store has been separated into two distinct sections — another popular trend in dispensary design.
“The layout is comprised of two parts,” says Elizabeth Cooksey, senior vice president of retail at Caliva. “The first room is open and inviting… where shoppers can browse products in a friendly and educational environment. The second part of the store is a space reserved for our regularly scheduled wellness events and services.”
No longer simply shelters to house and sell pot, companies in the Bay Area now often factor in space for classes, product demonstrations, and social events when designing a new retail location. It was definitely on the minds of the Wellness by NUG team when they included a lounge space and a meeting room into their plans.
Located at 3089 Teagarden Street in San Leandro, NUG’s San Leandro store is situated in a building adjoining the headquarters of Davis Street Family Resource Center (the non-profit is an official partner for the dispensary, with 2 percent of proceeds from every sale going to the local family services organization). Once inside, a staff member checks visitors into the system, at which point they are invited to enter a sizeable showroom that’s not afraid of empty space.
Separated from the register area by an eye-catching wall comprised of metal and wooden slats, the dispensary’s main space plays host to six raised glass cases — each featuring a collection of products bound together by a brand or theme — and a smelling station where customers can sniff strains prior to purchase.
Designer Dominique Alexander says that the San Leandro dispensary’s choice to forego the pomp and circumstance of space-hogging displays and excessive adornments better serves the vision of NUG founder Dr. John Oram.
“John is very much a minimalist,” says Alexander. “That certainly had a bit of influence in our design in terms of appealing to his minimalistic taste. We really just wanted to highlight the product. Overdesign is something that we try to stay away from. We don’t really want a lot of tricks and gimmicks.”
Transparency is a major theme of NUG’s aesthetic, as evidenced by the exposed ceilings and open floor plan utilized at their San Leandro location. Currently operating under a soft opening with a formal launch date of Jan. 25, the San Leandro store is the second dispensary Alexander Design and NUG partnered on.
In March, the two unveiled NUG’s first brick and mortar location in Sacramento. Earlier this fall — six months after opening its doors — NUG Sacramento was voted “Best Place to Buy Cannabis” by Sacramento Magazine readers. NUG’s Sacramento and San Leandro stores are soon to be joined by a third sibling as well, as Alexander confirms that he and NUG are already hard at work on a new dispensary slated to open in Oakland in early 2020.
It’s possible the pair’s third dispensary together will include another call to Chris French Metal.
At present, the highly-touted Oakland firm’s architectural metal work is already featured at both of NUG’s existing locations. Touches like Chris French’s metal designs, which divide the retail and checkout areas of the San Leandro dispensary, are part of the flourishes Alexander hopes will unify each NUG location. While there is also a desire to differentiate each store as well, he sees consistency as a key facet in making customers comfortable when facing something as potentially foreign as cannabis.
“We aren’t just designing beautiful furniture and artwork,” he says. “We’re helping to create a core identifiable brand. We’re also trying to make places where we could bring our mothers, where we could bring anyone, and we try to approach that from a holistic standpoint.”
Though NUG is currently Alexander Design’s only cannabis client, the firm’s namesake believes that the regulated weed industry represents an incredible new potential source of work and creativity for the larger creative community.
“The cannabis industry represents a multitude of opportunities for a lot of artists and a lot of other creative people,” Alexander says. “For us, it has been a really, really great project to energize us and challenge ourselves with after 15 years. You know, we look for those projects that are challenging, that are different, and this was definitely one of them. Each project with NUG still feels like a challenge but we’ve definitely settled into a sweet spot.”
The writer is both performative and confessional in 'You Never Had It: An Evening with Bukowski.'