Rebelle, Berkshire County’s Newest Dispensary, Focuses on Approachability and Social Justice
Photos courtesy of Rebelle

Rebelle, Berkshire County’s Newest Dispensary, Focuses on Approachability and Social Justice

Owner Charlotte Hanna shares her journey to opening up shop in Western Massachusetts during the coronavirus pandemic.

October 16, 2020

Charlotte Hanna has worked on both U.S. coasts and in several industries throughout her career—from the health nonprofit world in San Francisco to spending 11 years on Wall Street and then investing in and flipping real estate in Brooklyn and the Hamptons.

However, she hopes the woman- and minority-owned, vertically integrated business she’s building in the cannabis industry—Community Growth Partners—and its newly launched Great Barrington, Mass., dispensary Rebelle will be the work she’s known for. “I see this business as my legacy project,” she says. “I wanted to make sure people who had been hurt by criminalization had an opportunity to be part of the market and come to work with us and grow with us.” 

Community Growth Partners is owned by Hanna as well as the company’s vice president Marcus Williams. The company’s cultivation, manufacturing and dispensary provisional licenses were awarded in November 2019 as part of Massachusetts’ social equity licensing rule structure. 

Hanna was inspired by hygge, a Danish design style, to create a warm and inviting aesthetic for the dispensary.

A Destination Dispensary

Rebelle is situated on Main Street, and a short drive from both New York City and Connecticut (from which tourists to the Berkshires often hail). The dispensary softly opened in September and hosted its grand opening Oct. 8. It boasts a newly rehabbed 3,000-square-foot modern-colonial exterior surrounded by half an acre of greenery and gardens. The renovation of the building—once a bird feed store—was important so that it would blend in with the high-end spa and wellness atmosphere of nearby businesses and feel part of the community. Inspired by the Danish design style of hygge, the building brings in natural light which reflects off the warm, off-white walls. Décor is minimal—with just a few pops of wood features as well as potted greenery.

“The other thing I did was—because we are on such an important thoroughfare in our community—I decided I wanted to put a yurt out in the front yard because I thought people would wonder what it is” and stop to check it out, she says. “It’s a beautiful bell tent. And I decorated it into this experience lab where people can come inside, and there’s a sound bath and mood-effect light[ing]. … I wanted it to feel warm, inviting and approachable but also, like, a little out there.”

Out front of the half-acre property on Main Street, a bell tent-shaped yurt invites passersby to immerse themselves in a unique light and sounds experience.

Beyond the overall aesthetic of Rebelle, which carries more than 60 SKUs of flower, pre-rolls, vapes, concentrates, edibles, tinctures, topicals and accessories, visual merchandising is an important objective for the company.

“I want people to come in and shop with their eyes. I shop with my eyes, so I didn’t want anything to be hidden behind a counter, beneath a glass case,” Hanna says. The Rebelle team has established a set of brand and merchandising guidelines “so the store team knows how this place always needs to look.”

Currently, merchandising is laid out based on consumption method, but Hanna anticipates as the market continues to mature, merchandising will revolve around new categories, like effects. Some of the “flex” merchandising space has already been shifted around, she says, as the team has studied shopping habits of customers and how they tend to wander about the store. It’s already helped to boost sales of under-performing products in the short time the dispensary has been open, Hanna says.

Another major component of Rebelle’s approachability is the company’s digital strategy. Williams, Community Growth Partners’ VP, comes from an Internet of Things (IoT) background, and helped to build the site’s custom menu software. The ease and the cohesiveness of the website is important, especially in a world of frequent pre-ordering online during the coronavirus pandemic but also in preparation for delivery licensing. (Delivery licenses are exclusively offered to the Cannabis Control Commission's Social Equity Program participants for three years.) 

Challenges and Opportunities

Charlotte Hanna, owner, Community Growth Partners (Rebelle).

Rebelle opened just a couple months behind schedule, despite the setbacks of the Northeast’s coronavirus outbreak. Hanna says the initial contractors for the project were laid off, and Community Growth Partners lost a portion of its funding, but quickly rebounded. “This has been a test of my resilience and determination,” she says, citing a history of adversity that prepped her for this moment. She worked in New York’s Financial District during 9/11 and “literally ran,” she says; took on Goldman Sachs with a discrimination lawsuit in 2010; and helped her husband rebuild his restaurant business in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the city. Pivoting and re-building is Hanna’s strong suit.  

At the dispensary, sanitation and distancing have been a priority from the get-go, Hanna says. Occupancy is currently limited to 50%, and not every register is open. The team has also committed not to rush customers as they peruse the store, have consultations and make choices, though customers are urged to take advantage of the pre-order system. “Our transaction time is a little slower than we had projected, but I don’t mind,” Hanna says.

The company is also still learning the patterns of consumer behavior in the time of coronavirus. Hanna says that while Rebelle is selling lots of flower products to connoisseur customers, the dispensary is selling many more edibles and tincture products, and fewer vape products, than originally anticipated.

Currently, the company’s biggest challenge (and opportunity) is to deliver on its social equity promise. As part of its mission to continue to provide opportunity for those disproportionally affected by the War on Drugs—3% of the company’s net profit is donated to the local nonprofit organization Roca, which works to help those who’ve been incarcerated to address trauma and re-enter the workforce through work-based partnerships and behavioral therapy.

Hanna says Rebelle’s involvement goes beyond the donation of funds. She says the company hired Roca participants for the demolition and light carpentry work for the dispensary building, and is planning expungement days in partnership with the nonprofit.

The Rebelle team has already hosted seminars with Roca participants to share information about the state’s cannabis industry and how they can get involved, but gaining participants’ confidence and trust has been difficult. Hanna says participants who initially express interest oftentimes do not follow up after learning about the industry’s required background checks. “I’ve personally called them. And I’m like, ‘Don’t worry about it. I am here to go to bat for you. You’ve done the work,’” she says, adding, “I really underestimated how hard that would be.”

The company has hired two Roca participants in greeter roles. “Hopefully these young people are going to grow with us, and find careers with us, and get rewarded economically through stock if they do well,” Hanna says. “That’s my goal. We haven’t done it yet, but I think we can.”

“We’re just getting started,” she adds. “What I wanted to try to do is not just help people expunge their records but help people build wealth—because there’s not just an income divide in this country, there’s a real wealth gap. So, I’m trying to help these folks understand how to make some decisions that maybe in the long run can really positively impact their family.”

In the meantime, Hanna hopes that customers will “shop with their eyes and their values,” she says. “There’s a lot of consumer research out there done by the … Nielsen’s of the world that consumers do care about corporate values. So, for me, it’s really important that our consumers understand our values as a company. … And we become a destination of choice because of those things.”