“You should invest in what you know, and I've been getting stoned since eighth grade, pretty much every day,” Joanne Wilson, seasoned angel investor, philanthropist and owner of the new part-dispensary-part-concept-store-part-wellness-brand Gotham, tells me as she recounts the trajectory that led to her opening the spot earlier this month. I spent an afternoon at the downtown NYC store this week to speak with Joanne and Chief Creative Officer Billy Richards to hear about how they opened Gotham and what's to come.
Gotham Cannabis is Much More Than a Dispensary
When you step into Gotham, the entry process feels like checking into a luxury hotel, before you step into a sun-lit open space filled with vibrant, beautiful things. From home goods to smoking accessories, and finally, an actual dispensary, the store orbits around a beautiful centerpiece: a pseudo-tree concocted by artist Molly Lowe, based on the oldest tree in Manhattan—an elm tree that resides in the Northwestern corner of Washington Square Park.
"We're talking about touchpoints of music, fashion, art. Some of the stuff is cannabis adjacent—'canna-adjacent' is our word,” Billy tells me, adding with a smile: “Some of it's just, you know, cool shit.”
"It's our goal is to change the narrative. You're not just buying weed, you're buying a lifestyle. It’s a spot designed for New York," Billy adds as we embark on our tour of the store.
As we talk, he walks me past a finely curated rack of clothing, featuring a beautiful lace shirt from COMME des GARÇONS, immediately recognizable garments from Rick Owens, and some pieces from more up and coming brands like Early Majority. Clothing collabs are a big goal for the future of the brand.
Some of the stuff is cannabis adjacent—'canna-adjacent' is our word. Some of it's just, you know, cool shit.
- Billy Richards
“The model I'm really implementing is like ‘90s Supreme. When they started working with organic artists from the area, musicians and different brands, and building that. I call it the spider web effect. If you wanna work with somebody else that has the same vision, the same kind of product, you resonate as far as design—obviously design’s a big part of the experience here—to create products that tap into their world and just build something together.”
He brings me to the one part of the store that has an almost shrine-line feel. It’s the display of Gotham’s proprietary line, a series of CBD lotions and other beauty products, which epitomize the brand ethos. The lotions, candles, and serums boast the quality of something like Aesop, with the addition of a CBD infusion.
At this point in the tour, you’re faced with the nicest dispensary you’ve ever been in. “Then there's this dichotomy, right? Once you hit the carpet, this is cannabis. The vision here was, each guest has their own dedicated salesperson. Let's make it feel like a Rolex when you go there.”
All of the products sold by Gotham feature weed grown in New York, further supporting the entire pipeline of cannabis production in the burgeoning state.
How Joanne Opened Gotham
When I ask Joanne how she got into cannabis, she jokes to me: "I made a lot of investments in cannabis. I smoked a lot of weed. You should invest in what you know, and I've been getting stoned since eighth grade, pretty much every day. So I thought, it's time to go."
This was compounded by the pandemic which led to the closure of so many major retail locations: "During Covid, all my favorite stores were closing. And I had this idea for a concept store since I was 21 years old. I was originally in retail and I melded it with pot. Everyone I know is like, 'Literally all your dots are connected here.'"
I had this idea for a concept store since I was 21 years old.
- Joanne Wilson
Aside from the retail connection, Joanne is most excited by how the store and brand provide an opportunity to give back. "We're working with STRIVE, and they are essentially the beneficiaries of this. They get 51% of the profits. That's essentially how it works."
This specific plan is partially due to regulations that require new stories to set a portion of profits aside, but Joanne explains: "That was always the concept of this store, which was, I'm going to give back 15 or 20% of the EBITDA to our charity, which is public and distributed to places like STRIVE, that's helping people who have been incarcerated find their self back into the world."
In addition to the philanthropic portion of the brand, Joanne is also very intentional about the experience of working at Gotham: "I love the people. I love my team. If you're full-time, you get full healthcare, there's no buying into that program. And there's a chunk of percentage put away for everyone here that will benefit at the end of the year."
The Future of Gotham
Both Billy and Joanne are excited about the vision they have for continuing to expand the store into a sprawling concept store in line with places like the legendary French retailer Colette.
"Our goal though—the next level would be to do a full integration. We're working towards that. A restaurant-cocktail bar-consumption lounge. Almost like old school Barneys," Billy explains.
They're both eager to work on some collabs across all of the products they carry, and to launch delivery services in the coming weeks. Additionally, the upstairs portion of the space will serve as a host for pop-ups featuring tattoo artists, flower shops, galleries and more. The first project featured in the mezzanine will be an NFT art gallery by Bright Moments, where the digital art gallery will host a live minting event.
Near the conclusion of our conversation, Joanne summarizes the goal of Gotham in its most concise form: "The point is I want to spread the joy."