Located on Third and Bowery near the perpetually hip East Village, Gotham is precisely the kind of dispensary we imagined when New York legalized: effortlessly classy, confidently understated, and most definitely not “just a weed store.”
We think of ourselves less as a dispensary and more as a concept store,” said founder Joanne Wilson. “We’ve been open for three months, and the feedback has been wonderful.” It’s fitting that Wilson is behind the standout store. The serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and philanthropist has enjoyed a successful career crisscrossing retail, media, tech, and real estate, detailing her life as the archetypal proud, powerful New Yorker in her long-running blog Gotham Gal. While the past decade has seen her become more active as an investor in woman- and minority-owned companies, Gotham marks her return to entrepreneurship and brings her career full circle.
“Gotham is a culmination of so many different things I’ve done over the past couple decades,” she said. “We wanted to make it a place where there are knowledgeable people, excellent products, and great events so you can feel really good being in the space.”
The store’s inventory is a mixture of well-curated consumable products and cannabis-adjacent apparel, household goods, and accessories. The selection leans heavily on the emerging “stoner nouveau” aesthetic that has blossomed in the Big Apple in recent years. Brands like Sackville, Gossamer, and House of Puff have opened the aperture on cannabis culture to include those less than inspired by garish green leaves and lingering reggae motifs.
The store stocks consumable products from popular brands like Edie Parker, Off Hours, Lobo, and Florist Farms, and even imports unique homeware and clothing from overseas.“We’re really trying to spread our wings as it relates to the products we stock,” Wilson said.
“We have a brand-new Austrian candle line coming in the fall that has never been sold in the United States before. We do really well with fragrances. But honestly, there isn’t an item in the store that hasn’t sold yet.”
Around the perimeter of the shop floor, clothing, bongs, trays, cocktail napkins, socks, cushions, and other cannabis accessories are displayed intricately and colorfully on towering shelves. In the center of the room stands the most striking and memorable element of Gotham: a tree with a circular green bench around the base.
“I always wanted a beautiful tree in a store,” Wilson said.
Like many of the best dispensaries in the country, Gotham toes a delicate line, exuding elegance without appearing precious or pricey. This is important, as prices largely are uniform across legal stores and trend much higher than products on the illicit market. Look too upscale, and customers might assume the merchandise is too expensive before they even see the menu.
“When you walk in, there’s something extremely warm and authentic about [the atmosphere],” Wilson said. “It doesn’t feel fluffy or like high design.”
The dispensary component is in the back, where ten point-of-sale (POS) stations with the most knowledgeable, personable budtenders serve customers and make recommendations.
Above the POS area is a mezzanine where the store hosts events and small gatherings. Wilson expects Gotham’s calendar to fill up in fall with eclectic offerings that spotlight different aspects of the varied inventory. “It could be art or a new clothing designer or tattoo artist,” she said. “We’re going to do all of these things.”
So far, Gotham has brought in a healthy mixture of locals and tourists. Despite the abundance of unlicensed options sprouting up around Manhattan, a lot of consumers choose to spend money at licensed shops.“The number of repeat customers [at Gotham] is off the charts, and people have been bringing in their friends, including athletes, celebrities, actors, and actresses,” Wilson said.
At the same time, she lamented the proliferation of “trap shops” that sprung up post-legalization, presenting the state with an enormous uphill battle to enforce the law while also ensuring the legal market thrives.“The illegal dispensaries are all over the streets, and the state and city have not been much of a leader in solving that problem,” she said. “I find it extremely frustrating.
“I happened to see a public service announcement last night reminding you that you can get a DWI for driving high,” she continued. “That’s what they choose to make a PSA about? How about a PSA about untested cannabis products from illegal stores?”
How New York digs itself out of a hole of its own making remains to be seen, but the city certainly is not afraid of challenges. “The City that never sleeps” reinvented itself in the 1980s and ’90s, survived 9/11, and today is polishing its swagger after the coronavirus pandemic’s interruption. Resilience and ingenuity are part of its character. Wilson has no doubt the cannabis industry’s issues will be resolved in due time. “We’ll find ourselves in a much better place a couple years from now,” she said. “But right now, we’re just dealing with a mess.”
Despite the challenges, Wilson and her team are determined to be a bastion of positive leadership in the city’s burgeoning industry. The store proudly offers healthcare to all its full-time employees and has initiated a profit-sharing component for its staff—something of an oddity in the industry.
In Gotham, Wilson has found an exciting confluence of her experience and passions, and she gets to lead the way in another new, creative, and commercial phase for her beloved city. “New York is the coolest city in the world, and I’m having a great time,” she said. “It’s a crazy industry, but I’m having a lot of fun.