For Cannabis Store Owner, Partnering Is Key

The former site of Anytime Fitness in the Crossroads Shopping Center is targeted for another adult-use recreational cannabis store.

Dishen Patel knew that the legalization of medical cannabis in 2010 was only the beginning; that recreational cannabis legalization was sure to come.

And with it would come business opportunities. The only question was, how could he break into a market about which he knew nothing?

The Edison resident answered that question, and eight months after the sale of recreational cannabis became legal, he and his partner have their state license and are preparing for a Spring opening of their store – Unity Rd – in in the Crossroads Shopping Center on Elizabeth Avenue and New Brunswick Road.

Unity Rd. is one of four adult-use recreational use cannabis stores so far set to open in the township by early next year.

Of all the businesses Patel could have expanded into, why cannabis?

“My background is in restaurant and retail,” he said. “I always looked at hyper-growth industries where I can be my own boss.”

“One of the industries I came across was cannabis,” he said. “After medicinal cannabis was legalized, I went to one of my partners and I was like, we don’t know too much about cannabis. How are we going to be in the pole position when New Jersey legalizes cannabis?”

His answer was to make frequent, multi-day trips to Colorado and speak with businesses that had been in the industry for a while.

“We toured a bunch of dispensaries, had meetings with Unity Rd., and signed a licensing agreement,” he said. “They would come on as consultants; they would help us get a license, help us with training, marketing and everything that would put us in a pole position and everything else that would help us run a safe business.”

“I knew Colorado was the right place to seek that out,” he said.

Patel said the Unity Rd. training “allowed us to get up-to-speed on the plant and also know our customers and be compliant and safe.”

Patel’s agreement is the first in New Jersey for Unity Rd., which bills itself as “the first true national cannabis dispensary franchise in the U.S.”

“Unity Rd. strives to empower entrepreneurs who understand the intricacies that come with cannabis but also believe in the potential benefits and growth opportunities that the space brings to the table,” Unity Rd. CEO Mike Weinberger said in a release. “Being able to enter the market with a devoted local entrepreneur such as Dishen, who understands the inner workings of the business model, will streamline the process of operating a compliant and successful cannabis business, while positively impacting the community.”

Once the corporate partnership was established, the next task was to find a location.

Patel said Franklin wasn’t his first choice.

“Franklin was one of the last spots we settled on,” he said. “We looked at all of New Jersey.”

With only about 30 percent of New Jersey town government voting to allow cannabis sales within their borders, Patel said, the universe for real estate is relatively small.

“In the 30 percent, there were all these zoning requirements,” he said. “Once you get to the zoning, the landlord may not want to do it. And even if the landlord approved, their bank may not do it.”

“We had a lot of obstacles we had to run through,” he said.

In the end, Patel said, he found the Crossroads location through a Google search.

“I contacted the township and pitched the idea,” he said. “And they told me they were very friendly to having cannabis in the town.”

Their first attempt to sign a deal fell through when the landlord’s bank wouldn’t agree to a cannabis business, Patel said.

But four months later, he said, he was told that the landlord had refinanced, and the new bank was cannabis-friendly.

Patel has a five-year lease for the 5,500-square-foot site, which formerly housed the Anytime Fitness health club.

Retrofitting plans have been submitted to the township, he said.

“There’s not that much we need to do, aside from a couple of walls, install security,” he said.

Patel said the plan is to have about eight employees on-site at any given time, but there will be more hires made.

Patel said high on his agenda is to become a contributing member of the community.

“Community will always be top-of-mind for us,” he said. “Coming from a minority, my partner’s also Indian, we’re been in New Jersey for the last 30 years, our parents migrated from India, values have always been important to us. We always love to give back. We have a track record of giving back to the community.”

And when is Patel hoping to open his store’s doors?

April 20 (4-20), of course.

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