Ask Robert Barish about Wicked Chronic, which he co-owns in Natick, and he’ll jump right into explaining the dual emphasis of his shop’s name.
“For the wicked side,” he says, “we have spell candles, Reiki candles, incense, books, essential oils, and tarot cards.” While “on the chronic side,” they carry “cannabis accessories such as pipes, vaporizers, and rolling papers.” Plus hemp-derived products with CBD (Cannabidiol) such as tinctures, salves, edibles, and hemp oil.
We asked Barish what makes the store, a favorite among MetroWest consumers, so darn special.
The process of reaching this point wasn’t nearly as glamourous at the end result. What was it like to be laid off, and how did that motivate you to pursue your dreams?
When I was laid off from a Fortune 50 company in 2015 I realized no matter how hard I worked or how quickly I rose through the management ranks my destiny was never in my own hands. I knew then I could never work for anyone but myself. My wife and I had talked for many years about opening a small shop. This was the perfect opportunity for us to explore owning our own business.
You knew you wanted to start a business long before you settled on this industry specifically. How did you know that you were pursuing the right idea, and what was it like behind the scenes as you drafted the plan for Wicked Chronic?
Our original business was going to be a vape shop selling e-liquid and vaporizers to tobacco users wishing to quit smoking; however, neither my wife nor I were passionate about the vape industry. After attending the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis in our hometown of Natick, we embraced the cannabis industry. We completed the courses, passed the comprehensive final exam, and received our certificates.
The education around the history, science, business, growing, and medical efficacy of cannabis was well worth it. It also made me realize that I was passionate about the business I was getting into. The best advice I was given many years ago was to make sure you are happy to be getting up each morning and going to your job. If you are not doing something you love, then you will hate your job. I love my cannabis accessories store and I love getting up every morning .
Your store first opened in Framingham on April 20 of 2016. After decades of answering to a boss, what’s it like to run your own business for the first time?
Scary and wonderful. I love having total control over every aspect of our business, from the product lines we sell to displays in our store and marketing ourselves. There is a tremendous sense of pride and joy knowing we built this shop with our own two hands and with our own money. The scary part is financing a new business, particularly one in the cannabis industry. Even a fringe cannabis business like an accessories store has to deal with the federal prohibition of cannabis. Small business loans are impossible to attain. The threat of a crackdown on cannabis businesses is a great concern.
Eleven months after your doors opened, a fire at your neighboring location enveloped your strip mall and your store burned to the ground. What was it like having to start over with finding a new location less than a year after you launched the business?
Exhausting. The fire was a big blow. Fortunately, no one was hurt and we were insured. Originally, I wanted our shop located in my hometown of Natick, but at the time we were looking to open our shop there was nothing available. There was in our neighboring town of Framingham, where we set up our first location.
A big roadblock for a cannabis-related business location is there are many building owners who do not want to lease space to this type of business. When we began looking for a new location after the fire we got lucky—the right building owner in a perfect location in our home town became available and we haven’t looked back since. Being on a heavily traveled road like Route 9 with the signage we have has been fantastic. The fire put us out of business for three and a half months. I never considered not reopening, it was only a matter of finding our next location.
Between the Small Business Association, the Board of Health, and other local government groups, you found little help in making your business a reality. What advice can you provide aspiring small business owners in the cannabis industry in dealing with governmental agencies?
Educate yourself on all of the laws surrounding your type of business. You need to expect that government officials will not know anything about the cannabis laws. For example, the Board of Health (BOH) in Natick informed us we would not be able to sell pipes, vaporizers, or rolling papers unless we had a tobacco permit. The BOH considered these to be tobacco accessories. After the November 2016 vote, these products officially became “cannabis accessories.” I pushed back hard on this with the BOH.
The BOH eventually consulted with the town’s lawyer, who consulted with the state’s attorney general’s office, and they eventually informed me that I was correct, a bong is a cannabis accessory. Pay close attention to what is happening in your local town government. Attend local selectmen meetings, planning board meetings, and finance committee meetings. Many towns film these meetings and provide them online for anyone to watch at their convenience. Watch them. Watch them all. Be involved in your local town/city government.
To what do you attribute the success of Wicked Chronic?
Education and openness. My wife and I are highly educated (no pun intended) around the science and efficacy of the cannabis plant. If I can pass along a little education to each customer, then I feel like I am making my little world around me a better place. … Now that we live and work in a cannabis legal state, my customers can come into Wicked Chronic and use words like “cannabis,” “CBD,” “bong.” In the past, saying any of these words would have gotten you kicked out of the store. Today we can be open about cannabis.