‘There's A Lot Of Opportunity Out There’: Dispensary Employees Talk About Illinois’ Booming Legal Weed Business

Herbal Care Center
Views of Herbal Care Center on Chicago's West Side as people waited to get inside and view the cannabis inventory as legal marijuana sales began on New Year's Day, 2020. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Herbal Care Center
Views of Herbal Care Center on Chicago's West Side as people waited to get inside and view the cannabis inventory as legal marijuana sales began on New Year's Day, 2020. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

‘There's A Lot Of Opportunity Out There’: Dispensary Employees Talk About Illinois’ Booming Legal Weed Business

It's been a week since recreational marijuana became legal in Illinois, and local dispensaries have been flooded with demand for pot products. In the first two days, the state generated more than $5 million in sales.

Herbal Care Center dispensary manager Michael Mandera and Green Thumb Industries district manager Derrick Levy joined Reset to talk about the first few days of the now-recreational industry.

On the first day of recreational sales

Michael Mandera: It's not everyday you get to work at 5 a.m. with a line of people outside, so that was fun. … We've spent the last six months really prepping for this day, and I think it all paid off. ...We had all hands on deck on the 1st helping out, which I think was a huge help for us and then we've also doubled the size of our vault in preparation and added an employee lot to add to our parking for our customers. We probably served nearly 1,700 customers, which was what we've been told on an unofficial state record which is something we're happy about.

Derrick Levy: It went great. We had a lot of long lines and a lot of happy people. You know, overall, I think it was a success.

At each store, we probably saw over 1,500 people. We had four locations that were running, Mundelein being our biggest one, and they were about at 1,500 people for the day.

On what drew them to the marijuana industry

Mandera: I like something new, something exciting, something fresh. It's been really a new challenge every day. I'd really enjoy face-to-face interaction and driving that customer service, that world-class customer service that we're going towards is is really something I enjoy.

Levy: It's a challenge every day. I actually have been in the industry for almost 10 years now. I moved here from Denver, Colo., about a year and a half ago, so just to see the expansion and actually see the business grow and it become something that is accepted has definitely been what's kept me driven and keeps my passion. And then, of course, just helping people, helping the patients and even the customers that we see that are coming in the adult-use side, a lot of them are dealing with pain in those different things as well. I've always had a calling to help folks, and I think this gives me that.

On protections for medical customers

Mandera: We chose not to sell flower to recreational customers in order to protect and preserve my nearly 3,000 medical patients. Making sure that they have their correct access to their medicine is vital to us, so that was one of the measures we took, and really just rationing some of our recreational sales, maybe limiting to one per category or just driving that limit down in order to preserve our inventory.

Levy: We established what our adequate supply was and we basically kept that threshold there, and then we brought in what we could on the adult-use side. But keeping in mind with that, we have a 3C Joliet store that we transitioned all flower sales to our adult-use location just because we got to that point where we needed to make sure that we had it. So really just having the reports and understanding the numbers as far as our adequate supply, and we're not going under that.

On advice for those looking for work in the industry

Levy: I think being persistent right now in this industry is a big thing. You know, there's a lot of opportunity out there, and if you stay persistent and you really show that passion and, you know, hopefully some retail background, that will definitely get you into the door. And I think right now is a great time, as we are proud to say that we're supplying jobs for a ton of people. We have upwards of 50 employees at our Mundelein location and we're still hiring. So just stay persistent and bring some passion.

Mandera: I'm really just looking for somebody who's really customer service driven, really providing that comfortable atmosphere … It’s really going a step and beyond for the customer or patient is key on my end.