With eye on Lenox's first retail pot shop, businessman looks to change its location
LENOX — A change in plans for a businessman aiming to open the town's first marijuana store could spell the end of a popular retail purveyor of fine cookware.
Jim Nejaime, the owner of the Spirited wine and liquor store, has a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the building housing Different Drummer's Kitchen on Pittsfield Road (Route 7/20) for his proposed cannabis business. Nejaime had been planning to lease space at the former Essencials Day Spa just up the road.
In light of the change, the Select Board has put off its scheduled approval of a host community agreement for the town's first adult-use recreational marijuana retail store.
At Wednesday night's meeting, Select Board Chairman Edward Lane said final details of the host community agreement — it's the required first step in applying for a license from the state — had been worked out at Town Hall meetings late last week, resulting in "a very, very good agreement that protects the town and does what it's our job to do."
He said he "anticipated we'd be here right now voting on that, but lo and behold, two days ago Jim informed us that he's changing the address."
The new location, at the intersection with East New Lenox Road, is across from the Luau Hale restaurant and borders a residential area, including the Rolling Hills condo complex.
Asked to explain the last-minute change, Nejaime told The Eagle that he was presented with the chance to purchase the site, "a better location for our business and an opportunity to own a stand-alone location with excellent entry and access." The original site he had proposed was part of a commercial building also housing Electra's Cafe, Papa John's pizza shop and Spartan Fitness.
Town Counsel KP Law will be consulted about the change, though Lee-Lenox Chief Administrator Christopher Ketchen doubts that there's a problem, Lane noted.
"It's relevant to the extent that it affects the things that a host community agreement is supposed to compensate for," Ketchen said.
To pursue a cannabis license, Nejaime formed a new company, Cedar Wellness LLC, with partner Stephen Abraham.
"It would be appropriate to have conversations with Steve again," said Selectman Neal Maxymillian. "Although these addresses are not that far apart, they are quite different, the intersection at New Lenox and Route 7 is busier."
Such agreements can include a fee of up to 3 percent of gross revenue, annually up to five years, by the applicant to the town to cover any costs directly associated with the operation of a retail marijuana business.
Lane pointed out that an applicant has to seek a special permit from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals as part of a lengthy process involving the state's Cannabis Control Commission.
"The degree of police detail necessary, given the location, is something I think is worth discussing," Maxymillian said.
"The question that has to be asked is, does it fundamentally change the principles the host community agreement is based on?" Ketchen asked. "That's a yes-or-no answer, and we'll spend a couple of weeks determining that."
"We've got to give the public an opportunity to swallow this," said Selectman David Roche. "This is a significant change of address; it abuts a residential neighborhood."
Nejaime declined to comment on the residential neighborhood issue "until we go further. We believe it would be a great location and we look forward to moving ahead with it."
Different Drummer's Kitchen owner Andrew Meisberger confirmed the potential sale of the long-established cookware building, purchased by his family in 1997, after relocating to the Pittsfield Road site in the early 1990s. Its previous locations under different owners included the former Lenox House Country Shops, now Lenox Commons, and on Walker Street downtown, he said.
Different Drummer's other site, at Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland, N.Y., just outside Albany, will remain open, he noted. If the Cedar Wellness purchase of the Lenox site doesn't go through, Meisberger added, the store will remain open, though the building is on the market.
"It's not that we had to close," he told The Eagle. "But we were approached with this opportunity and it made sense."
Whatever happens, the store will remain open at least through Christmas, he added.
"The Berkshire economy just doesn't support a store like ours anymore," Meisberger said. "We don't have the population with the demographics we need. We did very well when GE, KB Toys and other major businesses were here and when we had a middle class in Berkshire County, which we don't have anymore."
He also cited the impact of online merchant Amazon.com.
"Our customers are aging out for the things we have," he added, "and they're not being replaced by the next generation."
Lenox voters approved a marijuana bylaw last May that limits retail shops to two, and restricts them to the commercial districts along Pittsfield Road.
Navin Shah, owner of the building at the entrance to Lenox Commons that has housed half a dozen restaurants over the past 13 years, mostly recently Bobby Mac's, intends to apply for a retail marijuana license.
Just north of the city line on Route 7/20 in Pittsfield, there are two potential pot shop entrepreneurs seeking licenses to operate in the former Amazing.net store and in the former Dakota restaurant building.
The Lenox Select Board expects to revisit Nejaime's application at its next meeting, at 7 p.m. Sept. 4.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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