Pandemic can’t stop new cannabis business

PharmHouse Wellness shifts to delivery and curbside service four days after opening.
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The store offers different types of marijuana flowers, vape cartridges, topicals, tinctures and edibles like gummies, cookies, mints and chocolate Courtesy Roberta King

While most locally owned businesses have an established presence in Grand Rapids and are known among residents, Casey Kornoelje has not been so fortunate.

Kornoelje had to both introduce his new business, PharmHouse Wellness, to the community and quickly adapt to the new normal just days before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer instituted the executive stay-at-home order.

“It was a long journey to get the doors open, four days before the state lockdown,” he said. “We were not anticipating doing curbside (pick-up), we were not anticipating doing deliveries to your home, like a pizza delivery service, but right now the business is exclusively those two forms of service. Both of those were not a part of our business plan and now we can’t have consumers into the store for face-to-face transactions, so we have to adapt our business model and shift to these other avenues to delivering medication cannabis to patients.”

PharmHouse Wellness, 831 Wealthy St. SW, in Grand Rapids, has seven employees and Kornoelje is in the process of hiring two or three more. Since the store has been open, Kornoelje said they average about 50 to 100 customers per day. His mother, Patti Kornoelje, spearheads the delivery schedule and provides delivery services, making five to 10 deliveries to patients’ homes per day.

“It has been a learning experience,” Patti Kornoelje said. “I wasn’t all that excited when Casey told me he was going into the marijuana business. But I could see that it ignited him, and he deserves my support. I’ve learned a lot working for him and met so many good people.”

Kornoelje has been a medical marijuana caregiver for over 10 years. He assists patients with debilitating and chronic illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and cancer.

Some of the items that are sold in his 750-square-foot store include different types of marijuana flowers, vape cartridges, topicals, tinctures and edibles like gummies, cookies, mints and chocolate. The marijuana plants are purchased from growers within the state.

Coping as a new business in Grand Rapids during the pandemic is only the newest hurdle Kornoelje has had to overcome. He said he had to deal with numerous state and city regulatory hurdles, including the city zoning ordinances, lottery and construction process, to open the only locally owned marijuana dispensary in Grand Rapids.

Kornoelje said Lynee Wells, founder and CEO of Aligned Planning in Grand Rapids, was able to show him the zoning and regulatory path to establishing his business and assist with his planning commission presentation.

“We are located in a mixed-use industrial zone called the transitioning city center,” he said. “It is a zone that is permitted by the city of Grand Rapids for medical marijuana because it is industrial in use, but my property is unique because it was historically used for residential purposes, but it lies in a commercial industrial zone. It is a bit of a unique property, so we converted the residential home into commercial retail, which is what we operate today.

“I have a deep passion for cannabis, cannabis production and the plant itself. I have always believed in the plant itself on a medicinal level so when the opportunity came to pursue it commercially, in a regulated marketplace, I took the leap.”

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