Pot shop planned for 'flying church' says it could handle swell of cars, shoppers


GREAT BARRINGTON — As a new marijuana retailer enters the long path to setting up shop downtown, the company says it is aware of the flood of traffic and shoppers that could set local nerves on fire.

And they say they will prepare.

At a community outreach meeting Friday evening at the Fairfield Inn & Suites, the principals of Area 413 LLC said they are ready to address concerns of residents and businesses that are neighbors to the Main Street redevelopment of the United Methodist Church — now known as the "flying church."

"We want to work with abutters," said Matt Meandro, the company's project manager.

Maggie Bona and Elizabeth Barnhill plan to open the retail shop in a 1,000-square-foot space in the lower level of the north side of the former church. It likely would take about one year to open, given the timing of state licensing, Meandro said.

The three say that they plan to run a community-minded outfit that would work with schools and police to deter problems like underage use and overbuying. They also say they would make themselves accessible to residents and neighboring businesses.

"We want to keep it charming and in line with the town," Barnhill said.

They concede that their shop could cause a swell in cars and people at this corner of Main and Rosseter streets.

Area 413 is one of five proposed legal pot shops in various stages of local and state permitting for Great Barrington locations. The first recreational marijuana retailer in town, Theory Wellness, opened in January on Stockbridge Road. And Theory's sustained long lines and deluge of out-of-state vehicles is serving as a test case for the new retailers to see what can happen before the leveling off that is predicted after more stores open. It's the flip side of the company's wild success, due in part to it being the first retailer to open in proximity to two state borders, with the nearest outlet in Pittsfield.

"It's giving [people] a little bit of a jaded image of what it can be," Meandro said, referring to Theory's crowds. "They have gone through every growing pain."

Neighboring Price Chopper, for instance, has had to erect a fence between parking areas, as Theory customers illegally have spilled over into the supermarket's parking and filled numerous spots.

Some of the roughly 10 people who attended Friday's meeting noted that parking on mostly residential Rosseter Street already is tight. There also are apartment buildings in the area, and tenants need their parking protected, said some.

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Area 413's tentative hours of operation would be from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., "maybe later on weekends," Meandro said.

And the flying church will have a total of about 22 dedicated parking spaces, according to Bona.

Bona, who with Meandro owns Shire Glass Co., a head shop on Railroad Street, said she would take a hard line against parking violators with a strict towing policy, put up signs and pay to solve other problems.

But Meandro said he didn't think the lines at his shop would be as long as Theory's, in part because the store would sell prepackaged pot that doesn't have to get weighed each time.

But one minor dust-up at the meeting illustrated that politics are alive and well in a new industry frothing with possibility, and concerns that capitalism will upend rural peace.

Mustafa Deen traveled here from Hancock to loudly accuse Meandro of hypocrisy, and of possibly trying to crush competition.

He later told The Eagle that, in Hancock, where Meandro also lives, Meandro was a hard-line prohibitionist who campaigned for a full ban on any marijuana establishments.

Meandro said by phone that this is a falsehood, and that he has no intention of opening a marijuana business in Hancock or any other town. He said he had only spoken in favor of a yearlong moratorium before bylaws were put in place.

"We have no zoning, no public water, no law enforcement," he said of why bylaws were needed.

Meandro's father, Ray Meandro, is a former Hancock planner who sat on the board that voted unanimously for a full ban.

But at Annual Town Meeting in May, residents instead approved a restrictive set of bylaws that also hold down the number of total businesses of any kind to seven. Deen, who uses marijuana medicinally to treat his multiple sclerosis, said he was part of a group that supported the new bylaws and which produced a research report about legal cannabis to help residents make decisions about the industry.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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