Men, don’t run away screaming when I say this, but prepare to throw away your dirty bongs and burn your stash boxes. Ditch all your old paraphernalia and say sayonara to your regular low-rent weed shop. You’re not in high school anymore, so put down that make-shift apple pipe and stumble down to Portland’s Serra recreational and medical dispensary, where they will help elevate your smoking style from slacker stoner to cannabis lifestyle connoisseur.
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With two stores already up and running and the launch of Serra’s Belmont Bodega location happening this weekend, I visited Marketing Director Chasity Roesler and Brand Director Cambria Benson at their downtown Portland location to ogle some high-quality buds and bongs and hear more about their drive to bring luxury, quality, and elegance into cannabis culture, all while normalizing and personalizing the retail process.
From the start, Benson knew she wanted Serra to be an up-scale, yet extremely approachable version of your typical dispensary. But, welcoming tourists, novice, and experienced-smokers alike meant Serra needed a way to reach the entire spectrum of consumers, not just chronic stoners.
The Feelings Guide
For those new to smoking, or newly back to smoking after a few tokes twenty years ago in high school, Serra provides personalized customer service with their Feelings Card.
Benson explains, “We wanted to have a really non-intimidating, informative way to choose your flower and choose your product. When people are less experienced, they come in and say, ‘I want this; I’ll have that edible,’ and they get back to their hotel or house and their weekend is wrecked because they lose themselves. And we don’t want that. So we created our feelings based guide to help people get to the strain they want. There’s still the THC and CBD knowledge for people who have a lot of experience with the product, but we use this system of iconography to hone in on how you want to feel when you’re on a strain. Because a name like ‘Zoo Cookies’ doesn’t tell you much.” And if you’re a novice, terms like Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid won’t help you either.
With six feelings options: relaxed, focused, creative, happy, energetic, or free of pain, the feelings guide allows the customer to tease out their own desires for what type of cannabis experience they’re searching for and, with the aid of Serra’s expert ‘docents,’ choose a strain that will satisfy their needs. The cards also serve as an active reminder for the customer once they smoke or ingest their marijuana (and get a little silly) to write down their own experience and interpretation of the strain. In this way, the customer can recall how they felt post-high and determine if that’s a feeling they’d like to experience again or if a change-up is needed or desired.
But, wait a minute. What are docents you ask? Well, what they aren’t is a pushy ‘budtender,’ according to Benson. “The term docent does a couple things for [Serra]. It has a vintage pharmaceutical feel to it [to go along with their tagline: Purveyors of Quality Drugs], but it also means ‘guide,’ literally. And the docents are here to guide the customer in finding the perfect strain or edible. If you want to feel happy today, you go find the happiness strain and we have a mellow to intense sliding scale which will help you get into what kind of strength and intensity you want.” Serra’s docents are well-versed in cannabis knowledge and are happy to answer any and all questions you might have. The docents let the customer take the lead, deferring to your needs rather than their own opinions.
The difference between a typical marijuana dispensary and Serra becomes clear the moment you walk through their door. Bathed from above in the soft glow of custom-made black metal light fixtures and grounded with an uniquely patterned tile floor below, Serra’s aesthetic lends a sleek, relaxed vibe to an already high-end atmosphere. And unlike most dispensaries, Serra has done away with the living-room like set-up others employ for their waiting areas. Instead, they’ve designed their entry as an elegant foyer where you can grab a free cup of coffee and admire the street scenes outside the huge (bar-less) windows. Once your ID has been approved, customers are led through frosted glass doors into a cavernous high-ceilinged room lined with light wood accessory shelves and several bespoke glass, metal, and wood cases featuring triangular glass tops that are evocative of a simplified Victorian greenhouse–a fun nod to the fact that yes, we are here to purchase, of all things, a dried plant.
The inner sanctum of the dispensary itself is as spare, bright, and clean as a SoHo art gallery. The buds or “product” are displayed on blue-stained ceramic dishes within glass-topped wooden boxes that rest on veined marble counter tops. Bronze magnifying glasses reside beside the display boxes, providing customers a close look at the gorgeous available strains and macro views of their attendant colorful trichomes. Coffee grounds kept in small brushed-metal containers help cleanse the olfactory palette between scent samples. With all the expert knowledge, attention to detail, and overall gorgeous and welcoming atmosphere, Serra has elevated the act of buying weed from a shady back-alley dime-sack deal into a luxury shopping experience that’s on par with that of searching for a fine wine or rare cigar.
The Product and Accessories
When it comes to consistency, Serra has you covered. “We really want people to be able to find a strain they like and come back and have it again the next time,” says Benson. “The growers we work with (like Pruf Cultivar) all have incredibly controlled grow methods where you can get the same strain time after time. What you often find is that one strain from one grower is different from that same strain grown on another farm. So consistency was key when we decided what growers to bring into the store.” Serra carries locally produced flower, wax, shatter, sugar, and vape oils. Most of the products come from Portland area growers, though some of Serra’s outdoor strains come from as far as the greenbelts of central and southern Oregon.
“There are so many great growers around Portland, that it’s a great problem to have,” said Benson, referencing the fact that there are more than enough producers and growers to choose from when selecting products for Serra. Roesler went on to add, “Serra carries exclusive strains you can’t get elsewhere in the city in an attempt to elevate our selection and presence,” providing Serra with some hard-to-get cannabis cultural cache.
Beyond the buds and dabs, Serra sells some of the most unique and beautiful smoking paraphernalia in the country. They carry a line of speckled and burnished stoneware pipes and one-hitters by L.A-based stoneware artist, Ben Medansky (whose studio just recently burned to the ground, making his pieces all the more rare). The pieces are heavier than they look, giving a nice solid, almost-ergonomic feel when held. The thickness of the stoneware also prevents the pipes from becoming too hot to handle. Other accessories that round out their displays are Haciendaware pipes, Summerland ceramic bongs, and an old-school joint rolling machine reconstructed from a vintage cigarette roller found at a family estate sale by Portland artist Brandon King. But what are you going to keep all your beautiful new goods and products in? A leather stash sack of course. Serra carries the Happy Sack leather combination lock case made by Seattle-Based Cannabis Lifestyle brand Van der Pop. Great for keeping your goods away from pets and curious kids, the sack also doubles as a stylish leather tablet case for the men or cute clutch for the ladies.
Serra dispensary is changing the face of cannabis consumption one location at a time. But, with marijuana still illegal at the federal level, how does Serra feel moving forward about the semi-legal limbo that states like Oregon, Alaska, and Colorado exist within?
“It’s definitely something that is a challenge to us,” Said Benson. “We are trying to do everything right. We have a full-time compliance officer with our company. We’re trying to stay out of any murky Federal gray area. Banking has also been a big issue for us. It’s hard when we’re paying taxes and giving back to the community and industry to have the illegality at the Federal level hanging over our heads.”
“At the same time,” added Roesler, “we’re not afraid. We do see the industry and the benefits it has. We’re very optimistic about what the future holds. It’s going to be a long road, but we’re doing our best to pave the way and make sure we’re on track. This is definitely a place where you would take your mother or grandmother.” And that’s what’s most appealing about Serra, the opening up of cannabis culture to a whole new segment of the population that was previously intimidated by the process.
Roesler continued, “If you’re not an active smoker, we’ve tried to set this up so that it’s totally approachable. The feeling chart particularly is a great entry point for a novice or returning smoker. That’s the goal. ‘I’d like to feel relaxed or sleep better.’ These are things that every person can relate to.”
“We want to educate people that there are other ways that you can consume responsibly,” Benson said smiling, “It’s not always getting stoned and getting couch lock. There are lots of feelings to experience.”
There certainly are.