Tufts Tobacco owner Jimmy Shenna has successfully run a highly regulated business in Orient Heights Square for over two decades without any incidents.
When cigar bars were En Vogue over a decade ago Shenna’s business was booming and was an anchor in the square. With a lounge, televisions, a full liquor license and one of the most comprehensive collections of cigars for sale, Shenna used to see over 250 customers come in and out of Tufts each day.
However, stricter regulations over employee second-hand smoke issues, the reliqueshing of his liquor license and the decline of cigar smoking in general has Shenna struggling.
However, the new burgeoning adult-use cannabis shop business has Shenna trying to keep his business alive by switching from tobacco sales to recreational marijuana sales.
At Monday night’s Orient Heights Neighborhood Council meeting, Sheena and a team of other East Boston residents led by attorney and former Boston City Councilor Mike Ross, pitched the idea of turning Tufts into a adult-use marijuana facility under the name Local Roots.
“There a lot of people coming in from out of town and landing in Boston and opening these very lucrative businesses,” said Ross. “Everyone on the team lives in neighborhood so we all got together and attempted to do this Local Roots business.”
Ross said Tufts would cease selling tobacco products and switch over to adult use cannabis sales under the Local Roots banner.
“Jimmy (Shenna) has been running a successful and highly regulated business in the community for 25 years without incident,” said Ross. “Like his current business no one under the age of 21 would be able to step foot into the adult use facility. It’s not like a liquor store where minors can walk in to buy chips or a soda or other non-alcohol products. This would strictly be for adults and it will be highly regulated.”
Ross explained that Tufts interior would be turned into an adult-use shop. Security measures would include a foyer between the street entrance and actual interior shop. There customers would have to produce identification showing they are an adult before being let into the shop.
“There will be no flashy signs, marijuana leafs or any other signage that would advertise the business,” said Ross.
Like his current business Ross said Shenna would be instrumental keep cannabis and cannabis related products out of the hands of minors because he has been able to do so with tobacco for many many years.
“He has ran Tufts Tobacco without one single incident,” said Ross.
In fact Shenna has long maintained that tobacco should only be sold in licensed tobacco shops by licensed tobacconists like himself. Shenna’s currently holds a license to sell tobacco and another license to allow smoking in his establishment. He is allowed the second license because a majority of his sales are directly related to tobacco and not food, liquor or other goods and services. Convenience stores, supermarkets and other stores have the same license to sell tobacco but smoking is not allowed in those establishments because most of their sales come from other commodities.
So if a convenience store, supermarket or another store gets caught selling tobacco or tobacco products to minors they are fined and have their license to sell tobacco suspended for few days. It doesn’t really affect these types of stores because they sell other goods and services for a profit.
The same rule of thumb would apply if the adult use cannabis shop was allowed to open in Orient Heights. Ross said the Local Roots team would invest nearly $1 million into rehabbing Tufts and could easily risk losing that investment and its marijuana license if any violations occurred.
Ross also said that above the six percent in tax on the shops sales, the team is in the beginning stages of seeking organizations or programs that may need help in the community.
At the meeting the primary concern was over traffic and parking and adults using the product in the area around the shop.
Ross said in regards to parking patrons could take advantage of parking in the square, take the MBTA Blue LIne because the shop would be located directly across from Orient Heights train station, or take advantage of the very inexpensive MBTA lot on Barnes Avenue that is a 2 minute walk.
“There could be a lot of options for customers trying to access the shop,” said Ross.
But in the end as more marijuana shops open there will be less demand on the few that have already opened. Ross said they will most likely morph into the equivalent of a local liquor store.
“You are not going to drive across town to say Jamaica Plain to buy a bottle of wine,” said Ross. “In the end this will be a store that services the local neighborhood and some of the surrounding communities.”
As far as crime in or around the shop, former City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who is working with the Local Roots team, said during his trip to Colorado when he was on the Council to get suggestions from officials there on how to regulate and zone the new industry here was very informative.
“Look, I went to Denver and I talked to city councilors there who were against adult use marijuana. I talked to the Mayor who was also against adult use marijuana and after a year of the shops being open they changed their minds,” said LaMattina. “They told us, and feel free to talk to the other City Councilors that traveled there with me, that the shops reduced street crime and petty crime in the neighborhoods the shops were located.”
Cutline, Mike Ross pitches the plan to open an adult use marijuana facility at the Tufts Tobacco location in Orient Heights Square.