Of all the facets of the cannabis industry that need to be reexamined, who knew knocking elbows with another customer over a dispensary counter would be so close to the top of the list?
Well, several health professionals, I suppose. Pandemic forecasts aside, one Portland dispensary has risen to meet the changing needs of its customers.
"Thankfully, we have a really good window guy," says Deb Grant, co-owner of Mongoose Cannabis Co. on Southeast Belmont, gesturing to the sliding window where she and her team of budtenders serve the customers lined up outside. The window in question is actually a modified sliding glass door that Grant and her husband, Chuck, installed when their ongoing renovations collided with sudden COVID restrictions. "We had the choice of keeping the shop open," Grant says, "but felt it was safer for everyone to keep the shop closed and work through a window. For several months, the window was the only access to our shop."
Even now that it's once again open for in-store business, Mongoose Cannabis Co. remains perhaps the only dispensary in Portland operating a walk-up window, a service that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission temporarily allowed in the same set of rule changes that permitted a budtender to meet you in the parking lot or at curbside for pickup.
The amendment is set to expire next month. In the meantime, Mongoose is doubling down on its streetside service and planning for a future where the model is as commonplace as complimentary stickers and branded lighters.
In pre-COVID times, Mongoose—which first opened in January—would be flooded with overflow foot traffic from the neighboring Cricket Cafe. Today, the dispensary feels like the center of commercial excitement on a block that otherwise remains shut down. The combined stillness of the cafe's darkened interior and the Belfry's papered-over windows is made all the more poignant by the colorful interior that spills from Mongoose's threshold only a few doors down.
The service window is not as obvious as, say, an old-school Dairy Queen or Dante's pizza door. Mongoose's storefront itself is straightforward: a glass door, with floor-to-ceiling windows on both the right and left, nestled into charcoal-colored brick. It is the nondescript sliding glass door on the west side of the building that glides open to reveal a push-button electric doorbell affixed to the backside of a small counter, guarded by a photo-realistic decal of a mongoose on alert.
The entire affair is quietly unremarkable, necessitating a curbside sandwich board—and sometimes an umbrella—to further reassure customers that this is not, in fact, just another big-ass window, but one that slides open to sell you weed.
On a recent summer day, the window was already open a few inches when I arrived. I pressed the doorbell and, immediately, a masked budtender leaned out like a Dutch Bros. barista. She smized over her face covering, requested my ID and offered me a laminated menu that she promised is sanitized between each customer. I didn't need it: Mongoose's easy-to-use online ordering system took about 10 minutes from confirmation to pickup and offers a typical assortment of expected items at multiple price points.
The budtender handed me my ID back and began pingponging between the main counter in the rear of the shop and the walk-up window, first to snatch my sack of pre-rolls and my invoice, then back to collect my cash and hand me my sack, then back to the register for my change, then back to the window to hand me the change, then back to the main counter to drop her tip into a jar.
As I watched her bounce back and forth inside the relatively narrow space, it was hard not to think, "This would be easier if I just went inside." But, of course, that's not the point. And since my entire interaction at the window was extremely low contact—only cash and the bag that held my purchase were passed from hand to hand—and lasted less than three minutes, I'd say the point was made.
Having achieved window service satisfaction, I had a peek inside the shop to chat with staff and eye the small selection of books, magazines and novelties displayed within. There is a certain unfinished quality to Mongoose, which Deb Grant explains is the result of a series of hurdles the shop faced since opening eight months ago, including the complicated math of reestablishing the dispensary's postal addresses to maintain a safe distance from schools, meeting zoning requirements so the Grants could keep their living space above the shop, and an unexpected break-in on the first night of the George Floyd protests.
"The first big night of the protests, four kids smashed our door and a display case. We used the plywood that covered the broken door as a chance to put up the colorful letters [spelling] 'Black Lives Matter,'" Grant says. "However, what it took to fix our broken glass was nothing compared to the depth and complexity of the problem that brought it about."
She refers to the Mongoose decal watching over the walk-up window's doorbell.
"The mongoose stands up to the cobra, and the cobra is, like, big business," she says. "The more I look at the cannabis industry, no matter where one stands on the issues, it is at the heart of so many things. I shudder at the number of young people locked up because of a plant."
GO: Mongoose Cannabis Co., 3123 SE Belmont St.,
541-933-8032, mongoosecannabis.com. 10 am-9 pm daily.