You’d think that opening a retail marijuana shop in the midst of a pandemic would be a challenge, but, in an industry where just about everything can be a challenge, it turned out to be one of the least concerns at Top Shelf Herbs of Alaska.
On a fall afternoon, there’s a steady stream of business to the shop’s location in midtown Anchorage drawn by the company’s selection of potent flower, pre-rolls and edibles at competitive prices. Top Shelf Herbs of Alaska is owned by the trio of Mark Fazio, Chism Leimbach and Carrie Leimbach, who all met while working in the Nome gold industry.
“We left gold mining for green mining,” Mark said with a laugh.
The trio had been looking at getting into the business for years but saw challenge after challenge when financial partners fell through — in a very Alaska turn, one potential partner backed out because he wanted to buy a boat instead and another backed out to film a reality show — and then they ran into the headaches of permitting and licensing between the state and the municipality of Anchorage.
But they were undaunted.
Ultimately, they had to rely on their own pockets to make the plunge. Chism and Carrie Leimbach poured their entire savings into the business, and after months of being open, they’ve yet to take home a paycheck from the business.
“We might as well jump in with both feet,” Chism said.
For Chism, the move was important personally. He had spent nearly 30 years growing and selling marijuana illegally and wanted to make the move into the legal world.
“I’ve been growing and selling weed all my life. Since I was 15. It’s always something I wanted to get into on the legal side. When you’re doing black market, you’re constantly looking over your shoulder,” he said. “I never thought in my life that I’d see anything like this. I thought I would be doing back-door sales until I was in my 60s.”
So as for the pandemic, Chism said he’s not going to let it get in his way.
“COVID obviously was not the best time to do it, but, at the same time, we’ve been waiting for more than a year,” he said. “In the long run, I’ve been growing for over 27 years illegally and my thought is if it takes one more year to sit here and become legal, then it’s just one more year.”
As for the state of the industry, Chism said he hopes to see prices come down, potency for edibles and concentrates go up — particularly for people who use them therapeutically — and see legalization at the federal level.
“Our motto is top-shelf products with bottom-shelf prices,” he said.
Chism said he’s happy to have made the move to the legal side of the industry and that he hopes he can start his own grow and edibles in the next few years. The challenges are far from over, but the group says they’re happy to be open and operating.
“We’re all broke but we’re open,” Carrie said with a laugh.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer in Anchorage. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.