“We are trying to be the best we can be in this industry. We have our challenges, we faced them all head-on and fought through”
Can you tell us some of the history and background of Western Front?
Bobby Boyd: Western Front is Mr. [Marvin] Gilmore, a World War II veteran. He owned the original Western Front in Cambridge, which was on Western Ave for 50 years. That was the first Black liquor licence given in Cambridge and he has had that for a long time. Western Front was one of those places where people come together, and one of the first places where you saw Black and white people mingle. All types of music came and flourished throughout that place. It’s unbelievable people still talk about it today. Western Front is Mr. Gilmore, we would not be here without him. He is 96 years old right now, very sharp, very bright, and an unbelievable influence on myself and the team.
Cassandra Valencia Leetz: Personally, I have only known [Gilmore] for a short amount of time. But before I got to meet him and got involved with the company, I made sure to read his autobiography. I was blown away in awe and humbled to help carry on his legacy through this company. I’m not doing it for me, not doing it for the dollar, I’m doing it for Mr. Gilmore.
Bobby: This man is living history, a crusader of freedom. He has done so much, and through all that still has a smile on his face. Everyday, no matter how hard life is, he’s just smiling telling you to take it one day at a time.
Tell us about the red carpet experience, how are you doing that, and how you will provide that experience consistently in the future.
Bobby: As long as we understand where it started, Mr. Gilmore’s blueprint for how we should move forward, all we have to do is pull back to that. I don’t think it would be too hard for us to understand how to stay on the path to provide great service for our clients and be innovative. Those are all things we can pull from that energy, that inspiration. When we walk through the store, we like to walk through as a consumer: What would the consumer like to see? Is this in the right place? Is this aesthetic right? Is it right for us?
Cassandra: It didn’t always look like this. We did some revision with the furniture and how we want everything to look. We always make sure we teach our staff the same principles that we are using. We want them to be more well-rounded than just a budtender. We are actively running some of our staff to step into larger roles as well. That is also important to us, giving them meaningful careers and not just an hourly wage.
Western Front is giving individuals who have previously made mistakes in life an opportunity to move forward. How have you seen them grow?
Bobby: Seeing the folks come in, I did not look at any of them for what they did in the past, it’s almost like one of my old teachers told me—you start with an A+, it’s up to you to keep it. Your past doesn’t bother me, everyone has a story. I’m not too far away from their background, that could have easily been me.
I think some of the people we have hired that have these convictions are some of our best employees. They step up and are vocal, they have an ambition to prove, I’m not like that. Kassandra and I spend time mentoring them, calling them. I feel like a big brother some days. We are teaching them life lessons. Like I said to a lot of them, I’ve been down that road, I know where all the potholes and side streets are, I can tell you how to avoid those, or you don’t take the message and hit those potholes. I feel like the position I’m in, I can help and guide some of these folks. Let me show you what helped me get here and I think it can be an inspiration all around.
Cassandra: We help them beyond ways that are in scope of the store. We help with the taxes, finding apartments—some people just need the extra help. Social equity is important to the Western Front, and we try to do that through our action. We are not using it for branding or a marketing tool, and when you walk in [the shop] you see it.
Bobby: We show and prove. If someone comes here and asks us, What are your social equity efforts? One is our staff, then secondly we contribute to the Last Prisoner Project, we donate to different programs throughout the town of Chelsea, and we are very active in Chelsea. We understand there are opportunities in Chelsea for us to be a “beam of light,” as Mr. Gilmore said the day of the ribbon cutting. He wants this to be a shining star. He believes this is a great opportunity for the people.
One thing that separates Western Front is its aesthetic and vibe, the idea and concept of having an art gallery throughout the dispensary. How important is it for Western Front to connect with local artists and why?
Cassandra: First off, we started a partnership with a local artist here in Chelsea who honestly volunteered to take on curating our art gallery on a monthly basis. He goes out of his way to find artists of color, artists in Chelsea, artists with priors, [and] brings art that is unique and for sale. He does it for the community.
Bobby: We average about 250 people a day. So the amount of eyes an artist gets on their work compared to sitting somewhere and not getting that visibility is very impressive to most artists that hang their work here. Even if they are not getting immediate purchases, getting that visibility is big for the artist. Once again, it ties back into who we are: the arts, the music, culturally that’s the Western Front. If you ever see old pictures of the Western Front [venue], they always had unbelievable art [and] great opportunities and big name artists. We are trying to make it more and more of an experience.
Cassandra: We started our first Friday series that will have different DJs, art galleries, food trucks outside, and we are trying to work with local brands. We had Laced come in last month. There are different ways to create an experience here, which is really exciting now that restrictions are being lifted.
What does the future have in store for Western Front?
Bobby: As we expand our footprint, the future is looking pretty bright once those stores open. The more we are able to build on our messaging and branding, the more people are learning about us. … We are trying to be the best we can be in this industry. We have our challenges, we faced them all head-on and fought through all of them, but we would love the message to be, When you come to the Western Front, it’s the most inviting safe comfortable lit environment you can be a part of.
Cassandra: We have some reeling partnerships coming up that we are excited about. Sometimes I can’t believe all the stuff we have done. … There is a good quote from Mr. Gilmore’s autobiography talking about “leading with love”—that’s something I think we accomplished here very well.